Review: Sophie's Monster Goes to Shul

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

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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 frightening young readers. 
The book is a realistic depiction of a progressive congregation in the US today. There's a Jew who is clearly non-White and another who looks, perhaps, Mizrahi. There's a female rabbi. Bubbe and Zayde play an integral role in Sophie's life. The illustrations include details which you'd see in Hebrew school -- kippot and a rabbi wearing a tallis and the children are singing, "Hiney Ma Tov." Yiddish words like "Oy" and "kvell" are casually used. I think that non-Jewish readers will easily understand the story, but it's because the story itself doesn't really contain a Jewish message. The message is more about imagination and creativity, and the morning spent at Hebrew school doesn't really have any deep insider detail; it vaguely mentions singing, stories, and dancing. The book also makes a distinction between fantasy and reality without shaming fantasy. That’s a message worth thinking about, but not exactly what I anticipated, based on the title.

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Reviewer Rebecca Klempner is the author of A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, Adina at Her Best, Glixman in a Fix, and (most recently) How to Welcome an Alien. Her writing for adults has appeared in Tablet, Hevria, Hamodia, Binah, The Jewish Press, The Wisdom Daily, and many other publications. Additionally, she is a freelance editor. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, where she welcomes a wide variety of guests...though, so far, no aliens.


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