Review: Miryam's Dance

Miryam's Dance

by Kerry Olitzky and Rachel Stock Spilker, illustrated by John Baptist Tumuhaise

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Cindy Rivka Marshall

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Miryam wakes to the sound of drums and is lured to the place where musicians and dancers are practicing. Along the way, her family and friends remind her to do tasks to prepare for Shabbat, and they sigh when she is forgetful. Clearly this is not the first time Miryam has been distracted. She is invited to perform with the dancers that evening. As Miryam twirls, skips and cartwheels, the lively prose and dynamic illustrations propel the reader from page to page, caught up in her exuberance. At first her family is hesitant about dancing, but Miryam encourages them to experience a new, joyful way to celebrate Shabbat.

The Ugandan character, Miryam, echoes the Miriam in the Exodus story, with her love of drums and dance, and her role of leading her community to dance with her. Although children may not catch this reference, it potentially builds a familiarity with the biblical Miriam.

Young readers’ images of Jewish people will expand with this portrayal of the Abayudaya, Jews of color in contemporary Uganda. The familiar sight of Shabbat ritual objects - candlesticks, wine and challah - set in a rural African village provides a welcome view of Jews in a context outside the experience of most American Jews.

The Jewish content makes this book a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.
The rich back matter includes a note written by the chief rabbi of Uganda, a glossary of Lugandan words, and a recipe to cook plantains. This joyful, colorful, and well-designed book will make children and adults want to jump up and join in the dance.

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Cindy Rivka Marshall is a professional Jewish storyteller for all ages, an intergenerational Jewish educator and a story coach. Her recordings have won awards from Parent’s Choice, Storytelling World and National Parenting Publications. She leads storytelling skills workshops and facilitates story sharing to build community and diversity awareness. Her business, Story Arc, aims to “reach, teach and change with stories.” She lives in the Boston area where she also devotes time to writing picture books. She has twice been invited to participate in the PJ Library Summer Camp for Jewish Picture Book Writers.


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