Review: Sitting Shiva

Sitting Shiva

by Erin Silver, illustrated by Michelle Theodore

Orca, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Dena Bach

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Talking about death and grief with the youngest of children is a tough task. When it is a parent who dies, it is all the more difficult. In the first-person narrative of a young girl named Jenny who is dealing with the loss of her mother, Sitting Shiva presents a way to begin the conversation. By tackling this topic through the lens of Jewish mourning rituals, Erin Silver’s sensitive, age appropriate book can be helpful even to those outside the Jewish world in its emphasis on the importance of community.

The narrative begins as Jenny describes how she and her father cover mirrors, tear garments, sit on low chairs, and light a yahrzeit candle. She explains how each action serves to express and symbolize their grief. But Jenny is not interested in the shiva ritual of people coming to their home sit with them. She wants to be alone with her memories of her mother. By showing Jenny covering herself in a blanket knitted by her mother, Silver presents a tangible way to describe both Jenny’s and her father’s feelings of loss, as well as a way to process the loss. Illustrator Michelle Theodore emphasizes these feelings with her use somber colors throughout, with the only exception the bright colors of the blanket. As a diverse group of relatives and friend arrive to sit shiva with Jenny and her father, the sense of community they provide helps draw both of them out from under the blanket and aids them in their grieving process.

The religious and cultural content in this narrative of Jewish mourning is thoughtful, authentic and accessible. A minor point in the illustrations - to make the traditions more universal across a wide range of Jewish practice, it might have been better had the father been shown greeting the visitors inside the house, as in more observant communities the mourner does not leave the home.

Overall, Sitting Shiva is a skillful introduction to a hard topic. The book fits the Sydney Taylor criteria, and in its detailed descriptions of Jewish mourning rituals, is a useful guide for teachers and librarians, as well as parents of young children dealing with loss.

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Reviewer Dena Bach has a BA in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and an MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons University. She has worked as an artist, a bookstore clerk, teacher of two to five-year-olds, and an art teacher. She is comfortable only when there is a large mountain of children’s books on her bedside table.


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