Review: The Inside Name
The Inside Name
by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Gina Capaldi
Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2023
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz
The target audience for Randi Sonenshine’s lovely new book The Inside Name is young middle graders, but this 44-page hardcover reads more like a sophisticated picture book. The first-person narrative tells the story of a young boy in 15th century Lisbon named Felipe Alonso. At least, that is his outside name. He and his family are conversos, Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition. The family practices Judaism in secret, so their Jewish names, their inside names, are never spoken outside of their home. On his way to and from an errand for his mother, Felipe is called horrible names by the city’s knife grinder and is chased by boys intent on terrorizing him. Sonenshine shows what can become of Jews in Portugal at this time as Felipe recalls his friendship with Solomon, whose whole family is imprisoned in a monastery. In the end, Felipe’s family is aided by Portuguese converso Doña Gracia Nasi, a wealthy shipping magnate who operated a secret network to help Jews escape to other parts of Europe. For the journey, Felipe brings a cutting from his grandfather’s lemon tree, so he can plant some seeds at his new home in Antwerp. The voice here is strong; the reader will really feel that the story is being told by a boy who must live every day with secrets and in fear for his safety. The text is almost poetic in its spare form and its beautiful imagery, and the watercolor illustrations are an excellent complement to the text.
This is not a story that Jewish children are exposed to often; it's certainly not a story that non-Jewish children would know. The scarcity of such Inquisition books in mainstream children's literature supports the theory that Jewish histories outside of Holocaust narratives are often ignored. I worry that this is a niche book for synagogue libraries. I don't think secular classrooms and libraries across the country will buy it because it doesn't fit the "regular" mold of a 50-thousand word middle grade book. Also, there is no traditional character arc. I hope Sonenshine will consider giving the story a full-length book treatment, though, so it can be shared more widely. The Inside Name should be considered for a Sydney Taylor Honor or Notable designation.
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