Showing posts from April, 2022

Review: From Dust, A Flame

From Dust, A Flame by Rebecca Podos Balzer + Bray (imprint of HarperCollins), 2022 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Sarah Blattner Buy at With a scholarship to Winthrop Academy in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, bookish Hannah Kowalski secures the stability she craves for herself and her “theater kid” older brother Gabe. But the foundation begins to crack on the eve of Hannah’s seventeenth birthday, when her mother reveals that she is Jewish, the first of her many secrets. The next morning, Hannah awakens to golden, snakelike eyes staring back at her in the mirror. Soon after, Hannah grows wolflike canines, and Malka departs on a quest to find a healer to ensure Hannah’s safety. A one-week trip turns into three, and that’s when a family death announcement arrives in the mail. Close siblings, Hannah and Gabe set out on a mission to find their mother and the family they never knew in the quaint village of Fox Hollow, New York, where they discover their Jewish family roots. Whil

Review: Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah Stories

Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah Stories edited by Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz Albert Whitman & Company, 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego Buy at “Sure, even though one by one we were being called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah, none of us had miraculously become a grown-up. But we were getting there,” reflects the narrator of Nancy Krulik’s “The Contest” in this anthology. Krulik is one of thirteen authors presenting tales of young people preparing for B’nai Mitzvah celebrations large and small, ceremonies and parties they look forward to or dread. The characters struggle with self-confidence and religious identity as well as the challenges of school bullies, a global pandemic, and various manifestations of antisemitism. The thread that runs through the anthology is what it means to become an adult. Some characters struggle with shyness, particularly when it comes to approaching a romantic interest, whether they happen to be in suburban Connect

Review: Max and Emma Cross the Red Sea

Max and Emma Cross the Red Sea (Torah Time Travel #2)  by Carl Harris Shuman, illustrated by C.B. Decker Apples & Honey (imprint of Behrman House), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Sandy Wasserman Buy at A masterpiece! In just seven perfect short chapters we suspend disbelief and join Max and his reprogrammed old smartphone, enter Max's cardboard time machine, and head back in time. We meet Moses, Nachshon and a few more of the cast of characters in the desert as the Israelites escape Pharoah's advancing army. Max doesn't take this trip alone though; his new friend Emma joins him and builds his confidence so that he can recite the four questions without too much palm-sweating or stage fright. Emma's been looking for a seder for her family to attend anyway, so that invitation comes around perfectly. And this early chapter book, with its delightful illustrations, does not lack for humor: laugh out loud humor, that will not be above the reader's h

Review: In Our Teeny Tiny Matzah House

In Our Teeny Tiny Matzah House by Bill and Claire Wurtzel Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili Told from the perspective of the house cat Kitzel, Bill and Claire Wurtzel’s In Our Teeny Tiny Matzah House is about a family who lives in a crowded teeny tiny matzah house and needs to prepare for Passover and the seder. The illustrations use photographs of ordinary foods (such as oranges, cottage cheese, celery, peppers, cantaloupe, avocado, strawberries, bananas, carrots and more) in extraordinary ways giving rise to expressions on the characters' faces that are simply remarkable. Favorites of this reviewer included the Statue of Liberty with broccoli torch, Souperman with a matzah ball nose, Mat Zahbrei, Cantor Loupe and Flankenella. Back matter includes step-by-step instructions to make Kitzel. The story mentions many elements of Passover and the seder including ridding the house of bread (watch

Review: A Persian Passover

A Persian Passover by Etan Basseri, illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh Kalaniot Books (imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing Company), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Bridget Hodder Buy at Kalaniot Years ago, at NerdCamp Michigan, I once had the privilege of hearing author Tracey Baptiste talk about #ownvoices representation. Her words evoked powerful images and feelings as she described her Caribbean island childhood, demonstrating how much deeper a story can go when it's told by one who has actually lived it. But why am I talking about Tracey Baptiste in a review of a book by Etan Basseri and illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh? Because I was reminded of how valid Baptiste's points were, while reading Basseri and Kheiriyeh's vibrant, immersive picture book about Mizrahi Jews. Readers can tell that the author and the illustrator have genuine cultural experience related to their subject, which is a Passover celebration in mid 20th-century Persia, now known as Iran. Every pag

Review: Alone Together on Dan Street

Alone Together on Dan Street by Erica Lyons, illustrated by Jennifer Jamieson Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House Publishing), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Arlene Schenker Buy at A young girl, Mira, is stuck at home in her Jerusalem apartment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her parents, while working at home, take breaks to bake cookies with Mira and her brother and play games in the evenings, but Mira still misses the noisy Jerusalem streets and her usual activities. She’s happy the family will get to celebrate Passover, but unhappy that there will be no guests this year. When she practices the four questions on her balcony (the only place she can be by herself), she hears Mr. Blum practicing on his balcony and realizes that many neighbors will be alone at their seders. Mira comes up with a clever plan for everyone to be separate but together. The mitzvah grows as Mira’s hand-made, artistic invitations are passed from balcony to balcony along with