Review: Like the Sea and The Sky

Like the Sea and the Sky: A Mysterious Mollusk and Its Magical Blue Ink

by Jordan Namerow, illustrated by Michelle Simpson

Brandylane Publishers, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Doreen Klein Robinson

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We first meet Zinni while under the warmth and comfort of her mom’s tallit, with its dangling fringes that remind her of the arms of jellyfish. While her mom, a rabbi, offers a morning prayer of thanks, Zinni daydreams about the her favorite sea creatures – the mollusks that hide inside beautiful shells.

When Zinni misses the school bus, we learn that she mixes up letters and numbers and is afraid to ask for help. Zinni’s mom shares that sometimes being a rabbi feels scary, too. This makes Zinni feel better, until she gets teased at recess for drawing sea creatures in her notebook. On the bus ride home, Zinni wishes she could be one of the sea creatures that squirts colorful clouds of ink to scare away its predators.

At home, Zinni’s mom tells her about an ancient and mysterious mollusk whose ink was used to color the threads on the fringes of a tallit - the color is like the sea, and the sea is like the sky, she says.

In her dreams, Zinni swims in the sea searching for the ancient mollusk. The underwater landscape fills her with wonder and gives her faith. Could Zinni find the ancient mollusk, even if she doesn’t know what she’s looking for?

As she swims along she’s enveloped in a cloud of blueish-purple ink. Inhaling the beautiful color fills her with peace. When she wakes, she tells her mom about her dream and how she didn’t find the mollusk. Her mom reassures her by telling her we don’t always find what we’re looking for – but we keep dreaming, wondering and trying. And from under the warmth and comfort of her mom’s tallit, Zinni finds the courage and strength to start a new day.

Like the Sea and The Sky is a gem of a Jewish story that combines multiple themes: a mother-daughter relationship, science and curiosity, bullying and self-acceptance. The story contains some Hebrew words that readers may not be familiar with, although context is given through the illustrations. The Author’s Note explains how this story relates to the Talmud, adding another Jewish layer and making it eligible for The Sydney Taylor Book Award. Heartwarming illustrations show Zinni and her mom under the tallit, with mom wearing a kippah. A colorful and scenic underwater spread includes the words for wonder, life, and faith in Hebrew. Children of all faiths can relate to the universal message: look for the wonders in the world and you’ll find wonders inside yourself. 

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Reviewer Doreen Klein Robinson is the daughter of Israeli immigrants and a first generation American. She loves hummus, Zionism and her 15.2 million Jewish relatives worldwide. As a writer and editor for community newspapers, she’s been telling stories for over 30 years and dreams of becoming a published author. She also dreams of peace on earth – because dreams can come true! Let us say, Amen.