Review: Ella KVELLephant and the Search for Bubbe's Yiddish Treasure

Ella KVELLephant and the Search for Bubbe's Yiddish Treasure

written and illustrated by Jen Kostman

Kalaniot Books (imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Arlene Schenker
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A day at the beach with Bubbe and Zayde Kvellephant turns into a treasure hunt for little Ella. When Bubbe reminisces about going to the beach with her Bubbe, she realizes that she has lost most of her Yiddish. This is good news for Ella because she loves a treasure hunt and is great at finding lost things. She reassures Bubbe that she will find her Yiddish for her and is eager to search "every sandy shore and every salty sea."

After a walk on the boardwalk to get ice cream, Ella begins to build her ship of sand. Sadly, it is washed away by a giant wave. Bubbe comforts her after her water mishap, and Ella falls asleep dreaming of pirate adventures on the ocean searching for the lost language. But it is soon time to pack up and go home, and Ella is sad that she has not found Bubbe’s lost language. 

The irony of the story (yes, irony in a picture book) is that Bubbe is using Yiddish words all day at the beach. And Ella must have been paying attention because she suddenly rattles off all the words in one great big sentence. The only glitch here is that children may be a little confused when Ella recites all the Yiddish words Bubbe has been using and claims to have found Bubbe’s lost language. But Bubbe nevertheless kvells over Ella—as a good bubbe should--and Ella rejoices that the treasure was inside her all along. 

The story is followed by excellent back matter with a short but informative history of Yiddish and a glossary of the Yiddish words used in the story. They are mostly words that have crept into the English language, and the back matter explains that some people who use these words, like “klutz” and “nosh,” don’t realize they come from Yiddish. It’s important, the author says, to know where they come from so their history is not forgotten.

Jen Kostman is both the author and illustrator of this book. Her illustrations elevate the story with their soft, yet vibrant, colors and the addition of many humorous goings-on in the background that aren’t mentioned in the text. This is a book that children can get lost in, just by poring over the illustrations. There is certainly enough Jewish (Askenazic) content to qualify for a Shmooze award by virtue of the Yiddish alone. 

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Reviewer Arlene Schenker has a degree in Child Development from Cornell University and a Juris Doctor from New York University Law School. She has worked as a New York City primary grade teacher, a lawyer, divorce mediator, and a community activist and volunteer. She now spends most of her time reading and writing picture books.