Review: The Very Best Sukkah, A Story From Uganda

The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda

by Shoshana Nambi, illustrated by Moran Yogev

Kalaniot Books, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Suzanne Grossman

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Sukkot is coming to the small Ugandan Abayudaya Jewish community. We share the fun with super competitive Shoshi and her two brothers as they build their own sukkah, hoping theirs wins the annual village competition. The vibrant linoleum cut artwork brings the reader right into life in the village, showing us the natural environment and day to day lives of the people. When a wild storm comes through the night before Sukkot, it damages all the huts, totally destroying the challenging front runner’s sukkah. The whole village rallies, helping to rebuild this one, which wins the contest. But Shoshi doesn’t mind, her competitive streak has mellowed as she learns, “Everyone wins when neighbors work together”. Generous backmatter includes a history of the Abayudaya Jewish community, a glossary of Luganda words used in the text and the lovely bonus of the Luganda text of Hinei Ma Tov. Their rabbi’s teaching about the lulav, with its three different types of branches laced together, much as people are joined together in a community, is a wonderful message of hope for our world.

The Very Best Sukkah meets all the requirements for consideration for a Sydney Taylor Book Award. Of most significance, the author is a member of the Ugandan Abayudaya Jewish community and is able to bring this world to life accurately in a way children can easily relate to. The writing is clear and appropriate for the target audience in a smooth style, helping to bridge cultural differences. The pictures are vivid and engaging, helping to make foods, animals, plants and other unfamiliar items mentioned in the text easy to visualize. It is consistent in its positive Jewish religious content surrounding Shabbat and the holiday of Sukkot with details unique to this community.

Ed. Note: This book was included in the Association of Jewish Libraries' Fall 2022 Holiday Highlights list for the best Jewish holiday books for children of the fall 2022 publishing season. 

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Reviewer Suzanne Grossman is happily retired after 30 years as a children’s library media specialist. She had the opportunity to share books, tell stories, and encourage the joy of reading with thousands of children. The moment when a child enters a story, experiences life as a character does and walks through the setting the author has created is magical. She is honored to have the opportunity to be part of the Sydney Taylor Shmooze, working to bring the best of the newest Jewish children’s literature into the lives of young readers. Having the gift of time, she now enjoys writing picture books and sharing them with children. Happy reading everyone!