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

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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 heads, and the timing is just perfect. 

For less than a fraction of a section I thought, 'time machine?' but I was right there with these characters as they landed in the desert with their hungry pets and poor snacks. The first character we meet besides Max is that 'talking reprogrammed smartphone' - a fully realized character with delightful dialogue and great comedic timing. The 'parental unit,' is how the smartphone refers to the parents, as they are busy vacuuming up chametz while the protagonists lift off to the desert from Max's bedroom. That smartphone, by the way, in case you'd like a pre-read laugh, is Miri, not Siri. By the last chapter, these two protagonists get back into their cardboard time machine and return to the current century, all prepared for the seder, ready to recite the Four Questions, and with a greater understanding of how to face the unknown. The 'Note to Families' at the end is just as delightful; it reminds us all "who's to say that a quiet voice within each person isn't as miraculous as the angel, the pillar of cloud, and the bolts of fire that save the Israelites at the Red Sea?"

This delightful story is great for a child who's a bit reluctant to recite the Four Questions to an audience or stammering a bit like Moses. It would also be good for a teacher or parent to read aloud! There's so much Passover history woven into the story, the child will feel encouraged and as if he or she has been sitting next to Nachshon in class for the entire school year and met with Moses well before the seder,

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Reviewer Sandy Wasserman is a retired teacher of Gifted and Talented students, and taught for 35 years in both public schools and at a Solomon Schechter Day School. She's a wife, mother of two adult daughters, and grandmother to two fantastic 'first readers' of her manuscripts. Her published book, The Sun's Special Blessing [2009], was her first serendipitous and fun experience in the publishing world. She loves to read and swim, though not at the same time.