Review: The Peacock

The Peacock

by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod, illustrated by Jamie MacGibbon

Orca Book Publishers, 2024

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Sara Lesley Arnold

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Through the lens of a young girl in Toronto grappling with an unwanted garden guest, The Peacock introduces young readers to the Jewish refugee crisis after World War II. Barbara’s father, a tailor, is overcome with a feeling of responsibility for displaced persons in Europe, and sets out across the sea to help Jews secure tailoring jobs to skirt around Canada’s impossibly restrictive immigration laws.

Back at home, while her father is away and her brothers are at camp, the responsibility falls on Barbara herself to care for her mother, who, in addition to being grief-stricken from the news of the horrific treatment of Jews in Europe, is terrorized daily by the peacock who has mysteriously planted himself in their yard. Learning from her father’s example of taking action and keeping in mind his wise words, “It’s up to us,” Barbara decides she, herself, must devise a way to find a new home for the bird in the family garden. Guided by Jewish holiday traditions throughout the year, she addresses her worries one by one, until finally finding the solution she needs.

Paired with adorable illustrations by Jaimie MacGibbon, author Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod tries to paint a picture of Jewish responsibility and overcoming helplessness among the post-war Jewish communities of North America. In the current climate for Jews around the world, more than they ever have before, young middle grade readers may see adults in their lives upset by events in the news, they themselves feeling unable to help. Through The Peacock, they can see how Barbara took matters into her own hands in a way that helped her family get through this crisis. 
While the theme is strong, the pacing drags somewhat, with the time frame seemingly extended in order to include a year's worth of Jewish holidays. The vignettes from throughout the year don't adequately build towards the solution to the peacock problem, so that the conclusion feels somewhat abrupt. A more detailed story aimed at a slightly older audience might have been more satisfying.

A high early chapter book or very low middle grade read, it would have the best home in the hands of young Canadians, Jewish and non-Jewish, who may learn of this entirely relevant moment in their history. Best for independent reading for third graders or together with parents for younger readers.

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Reviewer Sara Lesley Arnold is a middle grade and adult novelist, Jewish KidLit blogger, and inner city elementary school librarian living in beautiful New Hampshire, where she skis, plays tennis, and hikes when she’s not at the keyboard. She is an active member of the New England chapter of SCBWI, UNH’s Saturday Scribes, and KidLit603, and is a former synagogue librarian and trustee of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. As a content manager in the music industry in recent years, Sara wrote and edited content for many projects including a Grammy-winning album and three Grammy nominees.