Review: The Button Box

The Button Box

by Bridget Hodder & Fawzia Gilani-Williams

Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

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When Granny Buena shows her grandchildren (Jewish Ava and her Muslim cousin Nadeem) the family button box, they have no idea that the buttons within it are magic. After they touch a special button, they travel in time and space to 8th century Morocco, where they meet their ancestors and help a Muslim prince get to safety in Spain. As Ava and Nadeem learn about daily life in medieval Morocco, including the trade in herbal remedies and spices and the meals, the reader learns about them too. Helpful back matter includes a glossary and an authors’ note explaining who Sephardic Jews are, explaining which parts of the book are true and which merely based on fact, and encouraging children to speak up against antisemitism and Islamophobia. This reviewer found the book’s focus on commonalities in the Muslim and Jewish faiths and the harmony between them in both ancient Morocco and in Ava and Nadeem’s families to be idealized; something to strive for rather than a depiction of the world as it is.

With a setting (both geographic and temporal) rarely seen in children’s books, especially for its intended age group (I’d say ages 7-10), The Button Box, written jointly by a Jewish and a Muslim author, meets the criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband and two daughters, ages 16 and 14, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.