Review: Strangers in Jerusalem

Strangers in Jerusalem

by Kerry Olitzky & Inas Younis, illustrated by Maryana Kachmar

Brandylane Publishers, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Shanna Silva

Strangers in Jerusalem is, at its core, a book about kindness and embracing people who are different from oneself. Three girls, strangers at first, help each other locate holy sites in Jerusalem. Each has been asked to visit a house of worship that is not her own: Muslim Leila visits a church for a Christian friend, Jewish Rachel visits a mosque to give charity on behalf of a Muslim neighbor, and Muslim Asma visits the Western Wall to place a note for a Jewish friend. Differing backgrounds are no barrier to friendship here, as kindness and helpfulness bond the girls in friendship. The story shows an idealized and hopeful world of peaceful co-existence, where commonalities are more important than differences. The innocence of the children, who are naïve to the frictions between religious groups in Israel, allows them to simply be kids. How refreshing! Other themes of gratitude, family, and the importance of good deeds are woven throughout.

The art, illustrated by Maryana Kachmar, depicts a vibrant, diverse Jerusalem with the various holy sites. The girls have soulful eyes and kind faces, although they look older than the target picture book audience.

The youngest readers may miss some of the details in the dense text, but the overall messages will hit the desired impact. It’s a great lesson for kids and adults. Although the real world surrounding the readers is full of strife and conflict, Strangers in Jerusalem provides a welcome respite, and reminds us that to lead with kindness and respect is easy. This book meets the criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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Reviewer Shanna Silva is an award-winning author and Broadway producer. She has written three children’s picture books: A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups and Passover Scavenger Hunt. Shanna is also the author of over 45 hi/lo books for emerging readers. Her work has been featured in Kveller, Bella Magazine, Twins Magazine, Multiples Illuminated I and II, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Shanna lives in New York with her family and a meshuggenah sheepadoodle named Drake.