Review: I Hate Borsch!

I Hate Borsch!

written and illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Mirele Kessous

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I Hate Borsch! by Yevgenia Nayberg is an intriguing mix of things: part- memoir, part tribute to her Ukrainian heritage, part amusing children’s book. In it, Nayberg laments growing up surrounded by borsch and being forced to eat the red stew with the “slippery, slimy tomato and the bushy green dill.” The author immigrated to America, where she drifted towards American foods such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the “mysterious” Pumpkin Spice latte. Yet, she feels that something is missing. That’s when she pulls out her grandmother’s borsch recipes and gets cooking, embracing the part of her heritage she had left behind. Nayberg wrote and illustrated this book, which features pictures that are vibrant and whimsical–playing up the color red whenever possible. The cartoon bubbles add to the engaging illustrations, and kids will certainly enjoy reading the funny words inside.

The author/illustrator is Jewish, and shares the Eastern European background of many Ashkenazi Jews, but there is no mention of Jewish identity within the text. While not "Jewish enough" to meet the criteria of the Sydney Taylor Book Award, the book offers an intriguing glimpse into Ukrainian culture from the food (borsch) to the landscape (sunflower fields), to the tight-knit family circles (Grandma is the boss). This is especially pertinent given the headlines surrounding Ukraine these days. I Hate Borsch! is an entertaining read-aloud for children in grades 1-3 and for adults, especially those who are immigrants themselves.

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Reviewer Mirele Kessous is the Assistant Library Media Specialist at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland. She is a certified librarian with a specialty in children's/young adult library services and moonlights as an illustrator. She married an Israeli and has three small children.