Review: Shira and Esther's Double Dream Debut

Shira & Esther's Double Dream Debut

by Anna E. Jordan

Chronicle Books, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Stacey Rattner

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Are you looking for a book filled with wholesome fun, mystery, vaudeville and a side of Yiddish? Then this Freaky Friday meets G-rated Mrs. Maisel is the one!

Many years ago, before cell phones and the Internet, in the town of Idylldale, New York, there was a synagogue led by Rabbi Epstein, Scheinfeld’s Resort and Cottages (not unlike Grossingers), a deli man, a trolley, the Heights theater (on the verge of becoming a parking lot) and more of what you would imagine in an idyllic Catskills town. Esther Epstein is about to become Bat Mitzvah in two weeks, yet performing is more her passion than Torah. Shira lives with her performer mother, Red Hot Fanny, in the Heights. At odds with her mother, Shira wishes she could spend time studying with the rabbi. As different as these girls are on the inside, they are pretty much physically identical, despite one mole on Esther’s neck. Like Yiddish and Hebrew, Esther and Shira “may look similar, but they are not exactly the same.”

The big news is that the Nicky Sanders Show is coming to Scheinfeld’s to host a children’s talent show. In comes the swap. The girls look so similar that they easily take over each other's lives without their parents noticing. Esther studies for her (Shira’s) Bat Mitzvah and Shira practices for the show. The parents are unaware. “What does it say about how well these parents know their daughters that they can’t tell one from another?”

Mayne kinder, many questions keep us turning the pages: Will the girls pull off the performance and the Bat Mitzvah as each other? What’s in their DNA that makes them look so much alike? Can the Heights be saved? Readers will want to keep reading to find out!

This book has a folktale feel to it that Jewish readers will enjoy. “Even in Idylldale there are people who pray just in their homes, or in theaters, or in synagogues, or in the woods, or they don’t pray at all.” This book should appeal to everyone. Although there are a lot of Yiddish and Jewish references, an extensive glossary will help anyone unfamiliar with the language or the customs. And for our young readers who never got a chance to experience the Borscht Belt, this book is a great way to “visit” an idyllic and blissful time in our history. It is definitely worthy of consideration for the Sydney Taylor award.

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Reviewer Stacey “Leaping Librarian” Rattner is an elementary school librarian in upstate New York. In addition to leaping, she loves to run, travel, hike, drink coffee, hang with family and of course, read. Stacey is also the co-host of the middle grade YouTube quiz show, Author Fan Face-off with author Steve Sheinkin. In the 1970s and 80s, Stacey would visit her grandparents in Liberty, New York, home of Grossingers. They took her to all of the hotels in the Catskills to swim, ice skate and enjoy the barbershop quartets in the hallways.