Review: She's a Mensch: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World

She's a Mensch! Jewish Women Who Rocked the World

by Rachelle Burk and Alana Barouch, illustrated by Arielle Trenk

Intergalactic Afikomen, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz

Buy at Intergalactic Afikomen

In this collection of short biographical sketches, authors Rachelle Burk and Alana Barouch (a mother and daughter team) tell readers about twenty Jewish women of extraordinary achievement. Yes, the book includes Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a few other well-known luminaries, but She’s a Mensch also offers readers a glimpse into the lives of women whose stories are not often told. Some of the stars of the book are people readers have probably never even heard of, such as Australian mountaineers Cheryl and Nikki Bart, a mother-daughter team who climbed the highest peaks of all seven continents. Activist April N. Baskin and scientist Nalini Nadkarni are examples of Jews of color discussed. Each of the nineteen, two-page spreads includes a four-line poem, a paragraph of biographical text, a quote, and a question for the reader to contemplate how they can be like that spread’s notable woman. On some pages, the authors include an extra fact about the woman’s life or career, called a “Fun Fact to Mensch’n.” 
I appreciate that such a wide variety of Jewish women are featured in She’s a Mensch. It gives the book an unusual angle, compared to other recent collective biographies. Arielle Trenk’s lovely illustrations highlight the women's inner and outer beauty. 
I’m not entirely sure who would be the best audience for this book. It is the length of a picture book, but, aside from the little poems, the text seems more suited to older readers. On the page about RBG, the question included is “How can you solve disagreements in ways that are fair?” That’s a fairly sophisticated idea for a picture book! Additionally, I felt that the poems were not necessary, and would have preferred to see the authors use that space for more biographical information.

She’s a Mensch succeeds in exposing young readers to Jewish women of many colors and ethnicities. The Jewish content makes the book a fine addition to libraries looking to bolster their collections’ diversity offerings.

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Reviewer Stacy Nockowitz is a retired middle school librarian and former language arts teacher with 30+ years of experience in middle grade education. She holds Master's Degrees from Columbia University and Kent State University, and is an MFA candidate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut middle grade novel, The Prince of Steel Pier (Kar-Ben), won the 2022 National Jewish Book Award for Middle Grade Literature and was named a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book for 2023. The Prince of Steel Pier was also a PJ Our Way selection for October 2022.