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Showing posts from November, 2022

Review: Eight Bright Nights

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Eight Bright Nights by Hindy Spitz, illustrated by Jessica Liu Hachai, 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Jeff Gottesfeld With all the attention on diversity in children's books in general, and here at the Shmooze on Jewish books in particular, the fact remains that Orthodox Jewish practice is generally underrepresented...no matter the identity characteristics of the adherents. Attention must be paid, as Arthur Miller said, particularly because it is projected that by 2060, Orthodox Judaism will be the largest Jewish denomination in America. It's a way of life with consistency; that way of life is beautifully reflected in Hindy Spitz's book about Chanukah, Eight Bright Nights , with accurate, authentic, and often touching art by Jessica Liu. Chanukah -- that's the spelling Spitz adopts -- is a minor festival on the calendar. Spitz takes us through it in charming rhyme, never overestimating the holiday's importance (boosted for many of us by its calendar placem

Review: The Big Dreams of Small Creatures

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The Big Dreams of Small Creatures by Gail Lerner Nancy Paulsen Books (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz Buy at Bookshop.org This fantastical story, told from multiple viewpoints, offers a vision of hope for human/insect communication. Eden (a biracial interfaith girl), August (a white, presumably Christian boy), a paper wasp queen, and an ant named Atom all contribute their perspectives as the story unfolds. August seeks to destroy insect life after his big moment in the school play is ruined by a cockroach inside his costume. Meanwhile, Eden, a budding entomologist, discovers that she can communicate with paper wasps via radical empathy and a kazoo. With opposing purposes, both children head for the Institute for Lower Learning, "Where Humans and Insects Intersect." August wants to find the deadly insecticide invented by the Institute's founder before he saw the light, and Eden wants to help insects educate humans ab

Review: Eight Nights of Flirting

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Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds Razorbill (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2022 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Evonne Marzouk   Buy at Bookshop.org   Hannah Reynolds’ newest novel, Eight Nights of Flirting , tells an enjoyable story about a girl finding love and finding herself. Sixteen-year old Shira Barbanel is warm and loving with her large Sephardic Jewish family, but often struggles to build close friendships and connect with love interests. She definitely does not want to connect with eighteen year old Tyler, who humiliated her several years before. But unexpectedly alone together in her grandparents’ Nantucket house for the first night of Hanukkah, Shira and Tyler strike a surprising deal. Tyler will teach Shira how to flirt with her current crush, Isaac, in exchange for an introduction to advance his career. This high society story takes place in snowy Nantucket over Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years’ Eve, indulging fantasies of wealth, access and elaborate par

Review: Gracie Brings Back Bubbe's Smile

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Gracie Brings Back Bubbe's Smile by Jane Sutton, illustrated by Debby Rahmalia Albert Whitman, 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Ronda Einbinder Buy at Bookshop.org When her beloved Zayde passes away, Gracie is determined to replace Bubbe’s sadness with laughter during her grandmother’s long visit. Author Jane Sutton’s latest addition to her social and emotional learning collection teaches young readers how death affects the adults in their lives, and how children have the power to bring joy to their loved ones. Illustrator Debby Rahmalia draws colorful real-life pictures of Gracie and Bubbe, and flashbacks to a time spent with Zayde when he taught Gracie about rocket ships and volcanos. Zayde is drawn with grey hair and an orange cap. Bubbe appears much younger than her husband, but the smile on her face shows the love between them. Bubbe is too sad for yoga or playing the guitar, but when Gracie asks “Will you teach me Yiddish words?” Gracie thinks she sees a smile. The re

Review: When the Angels Left the Old Country

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When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb Levine Querido, 2022 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego Buy at Bookshop.org With its bookish, slightly absent-minded angel and clever, mischief-loving demon, the best of friends since time immemorial, this debut fantasy has immediate appeal for fans of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, but with a thoroughly Jewish perspective. Lamb’s immersive world is infused with Yiddish folklore and Jewish culture. Little Ash, the wingless demon with limited magical ability, is more properly a sheyd, closer to a mischievous fairy. He serves as interpreter for the angel, who only understands Hebrew and Aramaic. Both beings appear to humans as young Jewish men, partners in Talmudic study, their supernatural features unnoticed by all but some children and the most perceptive of adults. After centuries in the tiny community of Shtetl, the pair set out for the “Golden Land” of America. Their mission is to find the baker’s dau

Review: Where You've Got to Be

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Where You've Got to Be by Caroline Gertler Greenwillow Books, 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Nolie has always felt like she lives in the shadow of her accomplished older sister Linden. Though Linden is just 12 years old, she’s ambitious and well on her way to becoming a star ballerina (and a really moody pre-teen). Eleven-year-old Nolie, on the other hand, feels adrift as she hasn’t yet discovered anything she’s passionate about, and her busy parents fuss over Linden all the time. Adding to her worries is Nolie’s best friend Jessa, who wants to be “cool” in sixth grade and seems willing to leave Nolie behind to do so. Caroline Gertler’s second novel, Where You’ve Got to Be , is a compassionate story about adolescence, identity, and the bonds that both heal us and challenge us. Nolie, in her quest to have something of her own, steals items from friends and family members. She knows what she’s doing is wrong, but she is desperate to find som

Review: The Hanukkah Hunt

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The Hanukkah Hunt (Ruby Celebrates! series) by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov Albert Whitman & Company, 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Sandy Wasserman Buy at Bookshop.org Two cousins discuss the upcoming Hanukkah holiday, but Ruby learns that her cousin Avital is sad. Nothing can cheer Avital because her mother has to travel for work and will be missing the holiday. But that's what cousins are for, and the entire family gets involved in cheering Avital. Ruby arranges a treasure hunt, and each day of Hanukkah, she comes up with a rhyming clue; Avital guesses and we see her smile. By the eighth day, Ruby has run out of ideas, but in a final twist, Mom comes home early, a gift that surprises and delights the whole family.  Hanukkah customs are woven throughout the story, which features features a diverse extended family: most members are white, but biracial Cousin Avital's Dad is Black, and Cousin Ethan has two moms. Backmatter explains the history

Review: Monster Bar Mitzvah

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Monster Bar Mitzvah by Josh Anderson, illustrated by Dustin Evans Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Josh Anderson’s slim graphic novel, Monster Bar Mitzvah , presents the story of Eli, one of those kids who can’t seems to get out of his own way. It’s summertime, and Eli is feeling lonely and bored because his older brother Adam is so busy preparing for his bar mitzvah. Every time one of his parents gives Eli a task to help around the house, he gets distracted and messes things up, whether it’s putting together a table, sorting response cards, or simply getting a bag of flour down from a high shelf. Feeling sorry for himself, Eli retreats to his room where he meets one of his stuffed animals come-to-life, a friendly monster named Brisket. Brisket is out to prove to Eli that his summer can still be fun. The story is light on explanations– readers never find out how Brisket becomes animate or why

Review: Hello, Morning

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Hello, Morning! by Chaya Freedman, illustrated by Dena Ackerman Hachai, 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck The prayer "Modeh Ani" (I thank; I acknowledge) is the first thing that Jews say when they wake up in the morning, and this cheery book shows everyone waking up in a great mood and ready to do mitzvot. Dena Ackerman's accurate and authentic illustrations are colorful and classic for a book from an Orthodox publisher, and they set the mood well. They show a household awakening and doing morning rituals: washing negel vasser and putting on tzitzit. There are birds and animals ready to greet the morning in their own way, too. For the most part, the simple rhymes work well (though "Now to Hashem I will say 'Thank You!'" is a little awkward) and include a transliteration of the Hebrew. A note to parents and teachers at the end explains the significance and importance of the prayer. The last page of the book includes Modeh Ani in Hebrew

Review: Hi, Hello, Welcome

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Hi, Hello, Welcome by Chris Barash, illustrated by Rosie Butcher PJ Publishing, 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Suzanne Grossman Buy at Amazon.com A wheelchair-bound child warmly welcomes three adorable animal guests into his home, practicing the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim or welcoming guests (although this Hebrew term is included in the notes rather than the story itself). With each knock at the door, the reader opens a flap to reveal the next guest. When all are assembled, they share a yummy tea party.   The lively rhyming story and bright vibrant pictures are perfect for encouraging cozy conversation. The wheelchair bound child with the rainbow patterned sweater lends a nice touch of understated diverse representation. The notes include a link to pjlibrary.org/hihellowelcome for related activities. This lift-the-flap board book meets all the requirements for consideration for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. The engaging artwork and bouncing text are perfect for our very you

Review: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

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The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum Philomel (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2022 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Sarah Blattner Buy at Bookshop.org The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen opens with a flashback during the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Av, where the protagonist and narrator, Yehuda “Hoodie” Rosen proceeds to explain to the reader the first steps toward his ruination. Quickly, the reader is dropped into Hoodie’s world with long days of study at the Yeshiva. Right away, Hoodie’s sharp wit and sense of humor engages the reader, as he admires and characterizes his best friend, Moshe Tzvi, as someone who “makes you feel like an ignorant schmuck,” because of his Talmudic knowledge and acumen in text study and argumentation. While taking a walk during a break from his studies at the Yeshiva, Hoodie meets the captivating Anna-Marie Diaz-O’Leary, a gentile girl who also happens to be the mayor’s daughter. A forbidden friendship and affection ensues, where Hoodie crosses

Review: Dear Student

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Dear Student by Elly Swartz Delacorte Press (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Sandy Wasserman Buy at Bookshop.org Dear Student is the perfect book for any middle school child, boy or girl. It takes place in Grade 6, where even the most perfect-appearing, self assured kid is not! NOT at all! Autumn is anxious and thinks she's weird and doesn't have friends, never says the right thing, always second guesses what she might say or ought to have said. Author, Elly Swartz lets us in on all of Autumn's thoughts, her conflicts, her attempt at emergence into the world of her new school, her new home, and her family angst. Everyone else seems so in-the-know, even her kindergarten sister. Surprising herself, she makes a friend, Logan, relatively quickly. And the boy-without-a-name she met on her first morning heading to school, Cooper, becomes her friend, too. The reader comes to know what a great writer Autumn is, as we are witness to the creat

Review: The Tower of Life

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The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs by Chana Siefel, illustrated by Susan Gal Scholastic Press, 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Jeannette Brod Buy at Bookshop.org In The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs , Chana Stiefel and Susan Gal have created a fitting tribute to the creator of the Tower of Life (or Tower of Faces) at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Professor Yaffa Eliach spent much of her professional life gathering photos, diaries, and stories from the village of Eishyshok that her family fled as the Nazis invaded. When charged with creating a Holocaust memorial for the Museum, she traveled across continents and into the homes of Holocaust survivors to gather nearly 6,000 photographs from inhabitants of her town. She hoped to create a memorial that would capture the dignity and humanity of the townspeople who lived ordinary lives in unsuspecting innocence

Review: Rosalind Looked Closer

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Rosalind Looked Closer: An Unsung Hero of Molecular Science by Lisa Gerin, illustrated by Chiara Fedele Beaming Books (imprint of 1517 Media), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Karin Fisher-Golton   Buy at Bookshop.org   Rosalind Looked Closer follows the childhood, education, and accomplishments of British Jewish scientist Rosalind Franklin, who lived in the early- to mid-twentieth century. This narrative nonfiction book has a length and complexity that make it a good fit for the older end of the picture book audience.  Lisa Gerin’s text shows how a little girl with interest in science can overcome obstacles and develop into a woman whose research impacts the world. The repeating refrain “Rosalind always took a closer look” is fitting for both Rosalind’s passion as a scientist and for her accomplishment of capturing the first images of DNA, something that she was not credited for because she was a woman. The story effectively shows how Rosalind, and all scientists, can positivel

Review: Help-a-Lot Shabbat

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Help-a-Lot Shabbat written and illustrated by Nancy Cote Kar-Ben Publishing, 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Mirele Kessous Buy at Bookshop.org It’s a fairly common occurrence to find board books that are too advanced for actual babies. Either the text is too dense or the illustrations are too complicated. This is why Help-a-lot Shabbat is so delightful; it is the perfect read-aloud for children ages 0-3. There are charming, simple rhymes with charming, simple illustrations. Readers follow along as a pair of toddlers help their parents prepare for Shabbat–from shopping and cooking to cleaning and setting the table. Adorable animal friends make appearances on most pages, adding to the playful nature of the story. The friends and neighbors who come for Shabbat dinner are an especially diverse crew, including people who appear to be of African, Asian, and Indian descent. There even appears to be (possibly) a gay couple, which is a rare for Jewish picture books. So if you’re looking

Review: Building Bridges: Peace, Salaam, Shalom

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Building Bridges: Peace, Salaam, Shalom by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, and Melissa Stoller, illustrated by Kate Talbot Spork (imprint of Clear Fork Publishing), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Suzanne Grossman Buy at Bookshop.org This sequel to Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom highlights the cooperative efforts of three girls, best friends of different faiths. In the earlier book, the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends planted a tree together in Peace Park. In the sequel, the bridge leading to the park has become unsafe and the children rally their community to raise money for its restoration, using brainstorming and teamwork.  The clear text is accompanied by graphic artwork that is color drenched and engaging. Jewish Hannah and Christian Molly present as white, while Muslim Savera has dark skin. Their classmates have a variety of skin tones and one child is in a wheelchair. The three authors represent the three religious backgrounds of the main characters. In

Review: Black Bird, Blue Road

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Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack Versify (imprint of HarperCollins), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Judy Greenblatt Buy at Bookshop.org Warning - difficult territory ahead. However, if you don't mind a graphic description of leprosy and how to treat it, and you are not afraid to think about death, you may well find Black Bird, Blue Road a fascinating, thought provoking book.    In this historical fantasy, 12 year old Ziva runs away with her invalid twin brother Pesah by hitching two of her family’s horses to their disused wagon, loading it with provisions for the horses, herself and her brother, including his wheelchair, and taking off into the night, in what she thinks in the direction Constantinople. They soon join forces with Almas, a half demon who has some remarkable skills. We also meet the Angel of Death – who may turn out to be a little different from what you would expect. The characters are well rounded, thoughtful, and clearly differentiated. This is

Review: Dreaming Bigger

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Dreaming Bigger: Jewish Leadership for Teens by Dr. Erica Brown and Rabbi Dr. Benji Levy, illustrated by Gal Weisman and Shlomo Blass Behrman House, 2022 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Evonne Marzouk Buy at Bookshop.org Today’s teens are actively involved in addressing the most important challenges of our time, and many Jewish teens are engaged in a wide variety of campaigns and causes, including social justice, the environment, supporting diversity and inclusion, combating antisemitism, supporting Israel, and much more. Therefore, Brown and Levy’s new book, Dreaming Bigger: Jewish Leadership for Teens is a welcome addition to the Jewish Young Adult non-fiction landscape.  Dreaming Bigger is structured around Hillel’s famous maxim, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” In the "Leading Yourself" section, teens will find strategies to address practical issues such as when to say yes and when to say no, time and str