Posts

Showing posts from July, 2024

Review: Code Name Kingfisher

Image
Code Name Kingfisher by Liz Kessler Aladdin (imprint of Simon & Schuster), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel Aronowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Mila and Hannie are 12 and 15 year old Jewish sisters living in Holland during World War II. Their parents have no choice but to send them to Amsterdam to live with a non-Jewish family, to protect them from the Nazis. Hannie is a headstrong and strong-willed teenager and secretly joins the Dutch Resistance as an undercover agent while Mila tries to live a normal life by making friends and trying to manage her sister's sudden aloofness, and worrying about the fate of her parents. The chapters shift between this narrative and present day London where 8th grader Liv, who is Mila's future granddaughter, is navigating friendships and school and her aging grandmother. The narrative structure of this book feels a bit uneven and the narrative shifts strike me as overwhelming for the intended audience. We have present day London, in wh

Review: Uprising

Image
Uprising by Jennifer A. Nielsen Scholastic Press (imprint of Scholastic, Inc), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Judy Ehrenstein Buy at Bookshop.org Based on the life of Lidia Durr Zakrzewski, this is a fictionalized account of Poland under the Nazi occupation, as experienced by Lidia and her well-to-do family in Warsaw. They are not Jewish but seem to have good relationships with the Jews around them, including employing Doda as a housekeeper. Lidia is a headstrong, confident pre-teen as the book begins, talented at the piano, but the object of her mother's constant criticism, unlike her older brother, Ryszard and the memory of a long dead sister, Krystina. With Germany's invasion, life changes suddenly. Papa joins the army and is not seen again. With the months and years of war and its deprivations, Lidia grows to be an independent and resourceful young woman, determined to get an education, help others, and join the Resistance. When Doda and her mother, Bubbe are forced

Review: The Treasure of Tel Maresha

Image
The Treasure of Tel Maresh by Tammar Stein, illustrated by Barbara Bongini Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Merle Eisman Carrus   Buy at Bookshop.org What a delightful story about a family trip to Israel. The Treasure of Tel Maresha shares two stories of young girls in Israel at different times in history. Becca Goldstein is on vacation with her family, visiting an archaeological dig site in Tel Maresha, Israel. She has come reluctantly on this trip with her brother, Ben and their parents. She feels like she is missing something more fun with her friends back home in Massachusetts. Becca perks up as she begins to learn about the ancient civilization that existed in this area centuries ago. The tour guide explains how families built homes of limestone dug from the ground and the resulting caveswere cool places for storage of food and other goods. In an alternate storyline, Rebeka and her brother Benjamin are living in Maresha t

Review: The Girl Who Fought Back: Vladka Meed and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Image
The Girl Who Fought Back: Vladka Meed and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Joshua M. Greene Scholastic Focus, 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Jeanette Brod Buy at Bookshop.org The Girl Who Fought Back is an insider's account of the historic Warsaw Ghetto uprising that ironically finds our heroine stranded outside the ghetto walls on the day the revolt begins. But Vladka Meed’s story does not start there. It begins, as do many Holocaust stories, with the shocking downward spiral that afflicts Jewish families who were citizens of European cities. What sets this story apart is the portrait of despair in the life of a young woman who loses first family members, then friends, and finally fellow Resistance fighters. Survivor guilt permeates Vladka’s choices and actions with the recurring refrain, “Why am I still alive?” This telling is not for the faint-hearted. The internal dialogue is as honest as it is brutal. What balances the storytelling is the humanity and courage of a young w

Review: Tree. Table. Book.

Image
Tree. Table. Book. by Lois Lowry Clarion Books (imprint of HarperCollins), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Heather J. Matthews Buy at Bookshop.org Tree. Table. Book. examines the friendship between two neighbors – Sophia Henry Winslow, 11 years old, and Sophie Gershowitz, 88 years old. Sophia, after learning that Sophie’s son suspects his mother is in the early stages of dementia, takes it upon herself to prove her friend is mentally fit, and therefore, will not need to move out of her home. Armed with a friend’s father’s copy of the Merck manual, Sophia “tests” her friend’s ability to complete tasks; for example, Sophie’s abstract reasoning is tested when she is asked to determine what the words cat, dog, hamster and gerbil have in common. After passing some “tests” and failing others, Sophia revisits one test over and over – a short-term memory test, in which Sophie is told three words and then is asked to recall the words after three minutes have passed. Trying to stack the d

Review: Trajectory

Image
Trajectory by Cambria Gordon Scholastic Press, 2024 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Rochelle Newman-Carrasco Buy at Bookshop.org When we first meet our protagonist, 17-year-old Eleanor, it’s a Friday night in 1942. Her mom expects her daughter to help with the Shabbos meal. This means Eleanor will have to put away her magazine, which is really being used to hide her math book. Young Eleanor has named Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom she shares a name, as her guardian angel and often uses her quotes to summon confidence. At school, the name Nervous Nellie stuck. And, the fact is, Eleanor is often scared. Her family in Poland is a constant worry. And her passion for mathematics is dampened because she believes she was responsible for her father, a brilliant and renowned mathematician, having a stroke. How could she possibly pursue a math career when her father is no longer able to function in this arena? Still, she is accidentally identified as a math genius and recruited to be one of a smal

Review: This is Not a Cholent

Image
This is Not a Cholent by Sarah Sassoon, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Eva L. Weiss Buy at Bookshop.org This cheerfully illustrated picture book is set in Australia and intended for pre-schoolers and young readers ages 4-8. The story is told from the perspective of a young girl, Amira, who, together with her grandmother, participates in a local "cholent" tasting competition. Their Iraqi recipe for t'bit, or hamin, is distinct from the standard Ashkenazic versions of this traditional Sabbath stew, prepared on Friday afternoon and slow-cooked (in accordance with Jewish law) until it is served on Sabbath morning. Amira, with her grandmother's support, succeeds in standing her ground despite the repeated claims that "This is not a cholent." Amira affirms, "It smells and tastes like other languages and other lands."    This simple, well-told tale brings to l

Review: Ping-Pong Shabbat

Image
Ping-Pong Shabbat: The True Story of Champion Estee Ackerman by Ann Diament Koffsky, illustrated by Abigail Rajunov Little Bee Books, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Marcia Rosenthal Buy at Bookshop.org In this picture book biography, we learn the true story of Estee Ackerman. Estee learns how to play ping-pong at home and quickly develops a love for the game. Before long, she enters tournaments, beating opponents both younger and older than herself. Estee even wins a ping-pong match against one of the top professional tennis stars of all time: Rafael Nadal. She proves herself to be a skilled competitor, and her future holds much promise of becoming a champion in the sport. That opportunity comes sooner than one would have imagined. At just eleven years old, Estee has qualified for the championship match in the United States National Table Tennis Championship. But her excitement comes to an abrupt stop. She discovers that the match is scheduled to take place on Shabbat, thus cr

Review: Always Anthony

Image
Always Anthony written and illustrated by Terri Libenson Balzer + Bray (imprint of HarperCollins), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Always Anthony is the newest addition to author/illustrator Terri Libenson’s "Emmie & Friends" series. As with the other books in the series, Libenson zeroes in on a particular aspect of adolescence that many children deal with and offers ways to handle these difficulties through the storyline. In Always Anthony , popular, athletic Anthony Randall is a whiz at science, but he struggles in language arts class. His teacher asks his classmate Leah Ruben to tutor him until he brings his grade up. Leah is reluctant to work with Anthony, as he is “TPFW” (Too Popular for Words), and she has been bullied by the popular kids in the past. As Anthony and Leah get to know one another, he shows her that you shouldn’t judge someone too hastily based on their friends, while she shows him the damage that being a bull

Review: Max and the Not-So-Perfect Apology

Image
Max and the Not-So-Perfect Apology by Carl Harris Shuman, illustrated by Rory Walker and Michael Garton Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Judy Greenblatt Max has a time machine – one that works! Author Carl Harris Shulman use this device, in this third title in the Torah Time Travel Series, to draw his audience in. Max takes off in it to seek solace after a fight with his best friend. He’s especially sad and angry because she has made a new friend, and won’t come with him. This trip lands him in the middle of the biblical Jacob story, which just happens to be the story his class is working on. It was this class project that started his disagreement with his special friend. The argument led each of them to say things they didn’t mean, but neither could find a way to apologize. Enter Jacob, here called Jake, a man who is estranged from his brother, but who wants to mend the relationship. As Max talks to Jacob about his struggle to

Review: All Aboard For Noah's Ark

Image
All Aboard for Noah's Ark by Elana Azose, illustrated by Monica Garofalo Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org All Aboard for Noah’s Ark takes the traditional Bible story and shifts the focus to how every creature, even the smallest, prickliest one, has a role to play and shouldn’t be underestimated. Noah dismisses the hedgehogs Lionel and Dolores’s offers to help. Instead, he asks the more stereotypically large, strong, and wise animals, but, we are told, each of them in turn, “didn’t know how to help” or was otherwise occupied. Rather than be discouraged, Lionel and Dolores take the initiative, sending out invitations to animals from around the globe and preparing meals to feed everyone on board. With a cheerful colorful palette, adorable, not-always-realistically-colored animals, and an aging Noah with white hair and purple robes, this trip on the ark feels a bit like a cruise, with