Review: Ben's Bonkers Bar Mitzvah

Ben's Bonkers Bar Mitzvah

by Ivor Baddiel, illustrated by Zoom Rockman

Green Bean Books, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Judy Ehrenstein

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Ben Jacobs is worried about his upcoming bar mitzvah. He feels like he's not ready to be seen as an adult in the Jewish world, and he imagines all sorts of things that could go wrong on the big day. But never in his wildest dreams or worries did he think he'd need to save his bar mitzvah from an alien invasion! Weird things occur: the shul disappears and reappears, his family acts strangely, there is a green glow outside. Ben's family chalks up his alien story to pre-bar mitzvah jitters. Little do they know the danger they are all in, with an eventual world takeover being planned for Ben's bar mitzvah day, launching from his own shul. Only Grandpa believes him, and works with Ben to save the day and prove to Ben himself that he is ready to take on some more adult responsibilities. The relationship between Ben and his grandfather is well described and warm, and Ben's family is clearly close as well. The pen and ink illustrations are humorous and comic, but appear to show characters younger than thirteen years old. This is a light hearted pre-bar mitzvah jitters tale with a sci fi twist, with appeal more to the younger siblings of a b'nai mitzvah than one preparing for the big day.

This British import is clearly a Jewish book. "Shul" is used throughout, as well as terms like "bimah" and "Torah portion". The family appears to be actively Jewish and the men and women of the congregation sit separately although no mechitzah is shown. It may fit best in a collection serving mostly Jewish readers, as so much of the book focuses on the upcoming bar mitzvah and the actual service, with the alien invasion serving to propel the story forward and help Ben see that he is indeed ready to be called to the Torah as an adult.

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Reviewer Judy Ehrenstein, Children's Librarian, Montgomery County Public Libraries, Bethesda, MD Member of the 2021-22 Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee (AJL) and the 2023 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award Committe (ALSC/ALA)