Review: How to Welcome an Alien

How to Welcome an Alien

by Rebecca Klempner, illustrated by Shirley Waisman

Kalaniot Books (imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Shanna Silva

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How to Welcome an Alien is rooted in the long-standing Jewish values of hospitality and kindness. An alien spaceship crash lands in a residential neighborhood. The protagonist, Dina, welcomes the strange creatures into her home, even reminding her doubtful mother about the mitzvah of giving guests food, drink, and a place to rest. Humor leads this tale as the hosts and guests struggle to communicate and the creatures find unusual uses for the human objects. The alien vocabulary is funny-sounding, but familiar enough to be understood. A surprise ending brings the tale and lesson full-circle.

The aliens are illustrated in a non-threatening way with a color scheme that matches those of their human hosts. The art reminds us that commonalities can be found even in seemingly different species. These aliens have insect wings, unusual appendages, and mushroom-like heads. They all are drawn with smiles and pleasant expressions, which makes the reader understand why the humans aren’t scared or intimidated. Judaic imagery, such as a menorah and Shabbat candlesticks, subtly tell the reader that this is a Jewish family.

The author’s note recalls the Biblical story in the Book of Genesis when Abraham and Sarah welcome strangers, who turn out to be angels with messages from G-d. The Jewish value of hachnasat orchim, or hospitality to strangers, is underscored. Inviting and welcoming people who are poor, lonely, immigrants, or converts is a mitzvah. The message and intent is solid, but this reviewer wonders how parents can adeptly reconcile the conflicting messages of welcoming strangers while warning against stranger danger. Walking this line is indeed a challenge of parenthood, and this book offers many life lessons to discuss with children.

How to Welcome an Alien has literary merit and positive, authentic Jewish content. Jewish values of helping others and welcoming strangers are expressed well. There is also the important and relevant message that we can understand those who are different by finding the similarities we share. 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 over 55 children’s books for the trade and educational markets, including three picture books: A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups and Passover Scavenger Hunt. 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.