Review: Becca and Benj

Becca and Benj (Becca the Brave, Book 1)

by Judith Henderson, illustrated by Amy Jindra

Reycraft Books, 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Judy Ehrenstein

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The first book of a new series for newly independent readers, Benj tells of life’s little events alongside his pal Becca. Among the highlights is celebrating Shabbat nearly every week with Becca and her family, and battling classmate “Warren the Worst.” Benj is short, chubby, and appears to be African American; taller Becca is white, Jewish, and brave “like a Maccabee”. These friends support and celebrate each other in a very genuine 1st-3rd grader way. Yiddish is sprinkled throughout as are some excellent vocabulary building words, each with definition and pronunciation worked smoothly into the text. An incident with a mildly antisemitic tone (Warren calls Shabbat “Shabbat-butt-butt”) is rectified with gentle guidance by a neighbor: “‘It’s good to invite your enemies for matzah ball soup,” Mrs. Lieberman said. “World peace can happen with matzah balls.” And sure enough, the offer of homemade jelly donuts, something almost as good as matzah ball soup, brings about peace on the playground.

The friendship depicted is realistic, as is the social emotional learning piece that Mrs. Lieberman offers. The cartoon-like illustrations are lively and well placed, appearing on almost every page.

Jewish content is mostly about Friday night dinner and the practices of candlelighting, kiddush and motzi, along with some sprinklings of Yiddish. This book contains genuine Jewish content and meets the criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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Judy Ehrenstein is a long-time children's librarian in Maryland. She was a member of the 2020-22 Sydney Taylor Book Award committees and is co-editor of Children's and Teen book reviews for AJL News and Reviews.