Review: Listen, Sh'ma

Listen, Sh'ma

by Rabbi Alyson Solomon, illustrated by Bryony Clarkson

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Belinda Brock

Buy at

Author Alyson Solomon and illustrator Bryony Clarkson, the same team who created Thank You: Modeh Ani, are back with the equally lovely picture book Listen: Sh'ma. The cover with its sweet sleepyheads tucked into beds against a starry sky (continued on the end papers) lets us know that this is a bedtime story. A note in the front tells us that sh'ma means "listen" in Hebrew and the book is inspired by the Jewish prayer about oneness and love, traditionally said before going to sleep (as well as in the morning and on other occasions).

The book breaks down the word sh'ma into its individual soothing sounds and relates them to a young child's comforting bedtime routine: a warm bath, fresh jammies, cuddles, and many more moments of calm and contentment. The various families' collective voices send prayers and songs for peace and love out into the night and the universe.

The simple, yet lyrical, text is appropriate for the youngest readers.The brightly-colored and appealing art, a combination of cut-paper collage, acrylics, watercolors, and colored pencil, complement the text well. If you look closely, you will see that the illustrator also breaks down the word sh'ma into its individual letters—shin, mem, ayin—and floats them on the pages. The book includes characters of different skin tones, ethnicities, abilities, and ages.

In the back matter, the author—a rabbi—offers an interpretation of the prayer's meaning and an understanding that its meaning might evolve as we do. She explains that the sounds of the world around us are echoed in the word sh'ma. We just need to listen closely. The book concludes with a literal translation of the prayer.

Jewish content is an integral part of this story, as the Jewish prayer "Sh'ma Israel" forms the core of this book. The author has done an excellent job of tying together family bedtime rituals with the sounds and meaning of this prayer. Since this book is written in an uncomplicated, clear manner and provides reader-friendly explanation in the back matter, it is accessible to non-Jewish readers, although Jewish readers will have a particular interest in Listen: Sh'ma. This book will be a welcome addition to a Jewish preschool classroom, synagogue collection, or a home library.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Belinda Brock earned a MS in Literacy and Language from University of Chicago and her background is in teaching and educational publishing. She authored GG and Mamela, the first children’s book to address hospice care. Her essays have been featured on Kveller, Jewish Women’s Archive, and HuffPost.