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Showing posts from April, 2024

Review: The Night Before Passover

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The Night Before Passover (The Night Before series) by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Nathalie Beauvois Grosset & Dunlap (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Author Natasha Wing has parodied The Night Before Christmas with 40+ titles in her "The Night Before" series. The Night Before Passover is her second Jewish entry, following The Night Before Hanukkah (2014). Some Jewish readers may find the juxtaposition of Passover with a famous Christmas poem amusing, while others may find it discomfiting. That said, it's always appreciated to find Jewish titles incorporated into a non-Jewish book series. The text follows the pattern of couplets from Clement Clark Moore's original poem, but unfortunately, the meter is uneven and awkward. Forced into the rhyme scheme, concepts lose their meaning, as in this passage: "We sing psalms, recite blessings, / I sip grape juice from my cup. / I already fi

Review: Where Is Poppy?

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Where Is Poppy? by Caroline Kusin Pritchard, illustrated by Dana Wulfkotte Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Jeff Gottesfeld Buy at Bookshop.org A young girl attends the first Passover seder after the death of her beloved Poppy. So much is familiar -- "the same chasing cousins, the same squishy seats" -- but her Poppy has clearly passed away. It's hard for the young heroine emotionally, not to have this man leading the seder and influencing her life, with everything from his secret ingredient for pumping up the chicken soup to his pithy life advice when the girl would sit on his lap. Finally, though, as the adults tell her that Poppy is here, the heroine understands that Poppy lives in in their singing, Passover traditions like an orange on the seder plate, and the over-enthusiastic singing of Dayenu. Pritchard has crafted a touching story, with simple, appropriate, and equally touching art from Wulfkotte. I especially like

Review: Sophie's Monster Goes to Shul

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Sophie's Monster Goes to Shul by Sandy Asher, illustrated by Alexandra Colombo Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rebecca Klempner Buy at Bookshop.org One morning, Sophie discovers that the imaginary monster in her closet has collapsed in tears. It turns out that the monster misses the times when Sophie was actually scared of him. Also, he's lonely, since no one else can see him or talk to him. Sophie attempts to find the monster a new job, but fails until she takes him to the synagogue for religious school. There he enjoys listening to stories, singing, and dancing. Finally, Sophie writes about her monster. “You have a new job,” she said. “Now you’re the monster in my story.” From then on, other people can see and hear her monster…by reading Sophie’s story. Alexandra Colombo’s artwork supports the text well. The colorful and almost windswept appearance of the monster captures the strangeness of the creature without f

Review: Anything Is Possible

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Anything Is Possible by Rochel Sandman, illustrated by Chana Zakashansky-Zverev Hachai Publishing, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck   Buy at Hachai.com Bubbe Hinda and Zayde Mendel have fled from their home. It is wartime, and all resources are in short supply. Zayde Mendel is worried that there will not be matzah for Passover, and Bubbe Hinda sets out to make it happen. She goes to the farmer, who has no extra wheat. When she sees his worn-out boots, she offers some leather for wheat. Her next stop is the leather tanner, who has no extra leather, and a leaky roof. Bubbe Hinda offers tin to fix the roof in exchange for the leather. From there, she goes to the scrap dealer. He has no extra tin, but Bubbe Hinda notices his daughter’s shawl has holes, and offers to bring wool to knit a new one. Finally, Bubbe Hinda meets an old woman with a sheep. She asks for some wool, but the old woman says she has no extra for sale. Bubbe Hinda asks if there is anything she could

Review: Workitu's Passover

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Workitu's Passover by Zahava Workitu Goshen & Maayan Ben Hagai, illustrated by Eden Spivak, translated by Jessica Bonn Green Bean Books, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Arlene Schenker Buy at Bookshop.org In this charming and lovingly illustrated tale of a Jewish Ethiopian family, a young girl, Workitu, learns about her family’s Passover custom of breaking their dishes to be certain every trace of chametz is destroyed. Workitu cherishes certain pieces of the family pottery and can’t understand why the beautiful, graceful vessels should be shattered each year and then ground into powder. Nevertheless, Workitu follows her mother’s instructions, and along with her little sister Almaz, carries the pottery to her nearby Auntie Balainesh’s where the shattering and grinding is to be done. Auntie Balainesh patiently explains that the old must make room for the new, and Workitu allows Auntie to teach her to mix the powder from the broken vessels with clay, to knead it and creat

Review: Everybody's Book: The Story of the Sarajevo Haggadah

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Everybody's Book: The Story of the Sarajevo Haggadah by Linda Leopold Strauss, illustrated by Tim Smart Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rinat Hadad Siegel Buy at Bookshop.org In the recent hard times the Jewish community has experienced worldwide, a book like The Story of the Sarajevo Haggadah helped me find seeds of light and comfort. Sometimes, when we look for a book for young readers that captures the Jewish experience in a way that conveys the complexity of being a Jew, we are unsure where to turn. This book artfully does just that.  Linda Leopold Strauss found a true story that combines history, perseverance, comradeship, bravery, and, most importantly, humanity and hope. The story follows the path of a hand-painted, hand-lettered Haggadah. The book opens in 1995 in Bosnia and then jumps back to 14th-century Spain, when a Jewish couple gets married and is gifted that Haggadah. The first danger the Haggadah encoun

Review: Every Wrinkle Has a Story

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Every Wrinkle Has a Story by David Grossman, illustrated by Ninamasina, translated by Jessica Cohen Groundwood Books, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Belinda Brock Buy at Bookshop.org Every Wrinkle Has a Story opens with a startling question from a curious grandson to his grandfather. The grandson—Yotam—is asking about the wrinkles on Grandpa Amnom's face. How did he get them? How do they feel? The story is essentially a long conversation between grandfather and grandson that takes place at Aviva's Cafe, where they are affectionately known as "the grandpa who laughs and the boy who draws." Grandpa explains that some of his wrinkles come from getting older and others from both happy and sad things he's lived through. Yotam listens, thinks, and then views the other people around him through that lens. Finally, he expresses his feelings and discoveries though his colorful, joyous art. Grossman's minimalism and word choice are appropriate for his intended

Review: The Secret Journey

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The Secret Journey by Rivkah Yudasin, illustrated by Jacky Yarhi Hachai Publishing, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck Buy at Hachai.com Inspired by true events, The Secret Journey is the story of Reb Yitzchak Zilber and his family. In Communist Russia in 1953, it was a challenge to “live as a Torah Jew.” Reb Yitzchak is sent to a prison camp, and his family must prepare for Pesach. Mama, Sarah, and Bechik take the train to a small village, where an old man shows them the strip of land where he grows wheat for matzah. The family brings a heavy sack of flour home with them, and Mama adds it to her “stash.” She brings all the flour to a cellar, where Rabbi Sandok mixes the flour and water and Mama and Mrs. Sandok roll out the dough. Then the matzahs are put in the oven. When they are done baking, Mama loads her sled and covers them with a blanket. On her way home, she encounters two soldiers. They are suspicious about her cargo, but she says a silent prayer, and the so

Review: Afikoman, Where'd You Go? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure

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Afikoman, Where'd You Go? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure by Rebecca Gardyn Levington, illustrated by Noa Kelner Rocky Pond Books (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili   Buy at Bookshop.org Beginning at the point in the seder in which children search for the afikoman, this story takes young readers along with a diverse cast of cousins as they go through every room in the house and outdoors in an attempt to find the runaway afikoman. I appreciated that even though the target audience is young, the author's rhyming upbeat verses use an advanced vocabulary (determined, dismantle, investigate, befuddled, and bewildered, to name just a few choice words). The illustrations are both colorful and interesting as they are drawn from different angles and perspectives. I especially enjoyed the one showing the cut-out of the whole house with the interiors of each room. Readers who have experienced a seder, or have lea

Review: A Feather, a Pebble, a Shell

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A Feather, a Pebble, a Shell written and illustrated by Miri Leshem-Pelly Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Elizabeth Suneby Buy at Bookshop.org Join an exuberant, nature-loving protagonist as she enjoys exploring the varied landscapes of Israel. Written in first person, this picture book introduces children to the natural beauty of Israel as well as to the importance of preserving nature, leaving the land as you find it. The protagonist brings that point to life for readers, writing: "Whenever I hold something small in my hand--a feather, pebble, a shell--I leave it where it belongs... for you to find." Simple, sparse, lyrical language and colorful watercolor paintings convey the author/illustrator's love of Israel and nature. Sidebars with factual information about the indigenous items the protagonist encounters add another layer of learning. The back matter adds more factual information about the natural div

Review: Frankenstein's Matzah, A Passover Parody

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Frankenstein's Matzah, A Passover Parody by K. Marcus, illustrated by Sam Loman Intergalactic Afikomen, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Arlene Schenker Buy at Bookshop.org Frankenstein’s Matzah is a wacky, entertaining, very colorful graphic picture book. It combines diversity (a non-binary main character) with a Jewish holiday (a Passover seder), STEM (science experiments and back matter about the scientific method), Yiddish puns, and some moral questions for main character, Vee. Vee is the great, great, great descendant of Victor Frankenstein of monster fame. Vee aspires to be the greatest scientist of all time (not surprising considering their heritage) by bringing a piece of matzah to life, which they then plan to enter in the school’s science fair. They succeed. Manny the manztah (matzah + monster) escapes from the basement and, to Vee’s dismay, makes a surprise appearance at the family seder. Manny pleads with Vee’s astonished parents, “People, let me go.” At first