Posts

Showing posts with the label Rachel J. Fremmer

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

Review: Five Stories

Image
Five Stories written and illustrated by Ellen Weinstein Holiday House, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org The Lower East Side holds a special place in Jewish-American history, memory, and imagination. After all, the award for best Jewish children’s books (and therefore this blog), gets its very name from the author of books set there. From those books to the movie Crossing Delancey, the Lower East Side exists both as a real location (I should know - I grew up there!) and a mythical place. But the Lower East Side was not, and is not, home to just Jews. In Five Stories , Ellen Weinstein traces the history of the different waves of immigration to this neighborhood by following one family from each wave: Jewish, Italian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Chinese. Playing on the word “story,” she shows them residing on different floors of the same building. She emphasizes how music, food, and language kept all of these immigrants connected to their cultu

Review: The Apple Argument

Image
The Apple Argument by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Anita Barghigiani Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org The Apple Argument is a modern midrash, a backstory to the tales told in the Torah. With richly colored, appropriately lush illustrations by Anita Barghighiani, Jane Yolen spins a story explaining why we must work to coax food from the land. As the fruits bicker over which one of them is best overall, just like people so often do, each cites their strongest quality but fails to recognize that their varied strengths combine to create something better together - a fruit salad perhaps? In a scene relatable to any parent, an exasperated G-d leaves the scene, saying, “I will move far away so I do not need to hear you.” Human laziness - not curiosity - is the driver in this version of the Eden story, resulting in Adam and Eve finding it easier to “pluck the Fruits from the trees and Vines” tha

Review: The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman

Image
The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman by Mari Lowe Levine Querido, 2023 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org Shaindy Goodman isn’t special. She’s not at the top of her class academically, she’s not a gifted athlete, she’s not the most popular. She’s not an outcast either. She’s just… forgettable. So when Gayil, the most popular girl in Shaindy’s class suddenly pays attention to her, Shaindy is predictably flattered. What she doesn’t realize - at first - is that Gayil’s attention is not because she suddenly likes Shaindy. Rather, it’s because she needs an accomplice… and maybe someone to blame. As Shaindy helps Gayil play pranks on their fellow Bais Yaacov classmates, Shaindy begins to awaken to the fact that these “harmless” pranks are not so harmless after all… and that she deserves true friendship. With Yom Kippur approaching, she also reckons with her own complicity.   Author Mari Lowe takes readers into the fairly sequestered world of the strictly

Review: An Invitation to Passover

Image
An Invitation to Passover by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky & Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen, illustrated by Mariia Kolker Kalaniot Books (imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing), 2023 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org In An Invitation to Passover , Hannah’s family invites a diverse array of friends - and the reader! - to their seder when their relatives cannot, for unspecified reasons, attend. As Hannah and her family teach their guests about Passover, the reader learns along with them. But the teaching and learning are not one-way. Each guest brings a contribution to the seder which responds to a prompt in Hannah’s invitation and which shows how their culture celebrates the different aspects of the seder, like springtime and freedom. Backmatter includes more details about Passover and a glossary, although it would have been helpful if the glossary had included a pronunciation guide. The illustrations convey how warm and welcoming Hannah’s family is. An Invi

Review: Mordechai Anielewicz: No to Despair

Image
Mordechai Anielewicz: No to Despair by Rachel Hausfater, translated from French by Alison L. Strayer Triangle Square Books for Young Readers (imprint of Seven Stories Press), 2022 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org Narrated by 13-year-old Feigele, a messenger in the Warsaw Ghetto, No to Despair tells the story of the three week insurrection in the ghetto by the Jews in April-May 1943. The book’s focus is on the 24-year-old leader of the insurrection, Mordechai Anielewicz, and emphasizes his belief in dying - and living - with dignity and not succumbing to hopelessness without a fight. Feigele idealizes Anielewicz, as probably most or all under his command did, referring to him repeatedly as an angel. While this depiction conveys the adoration and loyalty the fighters in the ghetto felt for him, it does mean that we miss out on a fuller portrait of Anielewicz as a human being with his own flaws and foibles. Although the narrator does give us some con

Review: Deborah's Tree

Image
Deborah's Tree by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Cosei Kawa Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org This poetic recounting of the story of the Biblical Deborah’s life is stunningly beautiful, in both text and illustrations. The dreamy, lush illustrations by Cosei Kawa have a “Chagall in the Middle East” feel to them, with their motifs of pomegranate, figs, the scales of justice, circles, and spirals, and, of course, trees and leaves, among others, along with a touch of surrealism. As Deborah grows into womanhood and becomes a judge and then a general, she learns why she has been blessed with the gift of foresight and what her purpose is. Because of the poetic nature of the language, this book may be best suited to readers who are familiar with the story of Deborah. It would be perfect for teachers to use with middle-grade or even middle school students in Jewish day schools or Hebrew schools t

Review: The Book of Elsie

Image
The Book of Elsie by Joanne Levy Orca Currents (imprint of Orca Book Publishers), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org When Elsie’s synagogue threatens to close due to financial problems - and therefore cancel the Purim party that Elsie has been so looking forward to - she comes up with a plan to save the shul. Elsie's two dads, already sensitive to discrimination as gay men, are concerned about her plan to invite the wider, non-Jewish community to the party, but she wins them over and her plan is a go. But when antisemitic vandalism threatens the party a second time just hours before the event is set to begin, the community must rally together even more. This is a sweet story which addresses both antisemitism and homophobia and empowers readers to fight such discrimination. The book was specifically designed to appeal to reluctant readers and those with learning differences, including dyslexia, by using a dyslexia-friendly font and larger t

Review: Measuring a Year

Image
Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Zara Gonz á lez Hoang Abrams Appleseed (imprint of Abrams Books), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer   Buy at Bookshop.org The concept of measuring a year by what you’ve achieved, rather than the time spent, is not a new one (think “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent, for starters). But writer Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrator Zara González Hoang bring it down to a child-appropriate level, with, for example, illustrations of a parent measuring a child on a growth chart and a kid learning to ride a bike. While the subtitle and endpapers reference Rosh Hashanah, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah itself doesn’t make a reappearance until the end of the book. There are, however, other references to Jewish holidays and Jewish family life throughout the illustrations. I appreciated the subtle yet timeless references to the pandemic: a child getting a shot is described as “super brave”

Review: Shoham's Bangle

Image
Shoham's Bangle by Sarah Sassoon, illustrated by Noa Kelner Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer   Buy at Bookshop.org What a delight it is to be invited into Shoham’s warm, multigenerational home in Iraq via the pages of Sarah Sassoon’s Shoham’s Bangle . When the family departs for Israel, the reader, too, mourns for the home and fig tree by the Tigris River that they are leaving behind. Shoham’s titular bangle is especially missed, as the Iraqi government did not allow the emigrating Jews to bring their jewelry. Shoham’s grandmother, Nana Aziza, comforts her, comparing their journey to the original Exodus, and entrusts her granddaughter with carrying the pita (instead of matzo) to eat on their arrival in Israel. When she bites into it, she finds a wonderful (and hard to chew) surprise - her hidden bangle! This book is a lovely introduction to Iraqi Jewry and its own exodus, which is handled deftly and

Review: The Button Box

Image
The Button Box by Bridget Hodder & Fawzia Gilani-Williams Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org When Granny Buena shows her grandchildren (Jewish Ava and her Muslim cousin Nadeem) the family button box, they have no idea that the buttons within it are magic. After they touch a special button, they travel in time and space to 8th century Morocco, where they meet their ancestors and help a Muslim prince get to safety in Spain. As Ava and Nadeem learn about daily life in medieval Morocco, including the trade in herbal remedies and spices and the meals, the reader learns about them too. Helpful back matter includes a glossary and an authors’ note explaining who Sephardic Jews are, explaining which parts of the book are true and which merely based on fact, and encouraging children to speak up against antisemitism and Islamophobia. This reviewer found the book’s focus on commonalities in the Mu

Review: When Lightnin' Struck

Image
When Lightnin' Struck by Betsy R. Rosenthal Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org James Aaron (“Butch”) Ridgely doesn’t have it easy. His father died after being struck by lightning, his depressed and alcoholic mother is in jail, and his abuela, his paternal grandmother, a healer who could not heal herself, recently passed away. Now being raised by his grandfather, Pappy, James struggles to figure out his place and purpose in the world, how to stand up to his bully, and the meaning of a mysterious “charm” left him by his abuela. Helped along by a cast of characters including a Jewish friend whose family immigrated to Odessa, Texas because it was the name of their hometown in Ukraine and the local oilmen who eat at his Pappy’s diner, James makes his way. Texas on the verge of the Great Depression comes to life in Struck by Lightnin’ , tumbleweeds, dust storms, and all. Does the book have s

Review: You Are A Star, Ruth Bader Ginsburg!

Image
You Are a Star, Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sarah Green Scholastic Press (imprint of Scholastic), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org This picture book biography of the famed jurist is told in the first-person. With its short punchy phrasing and relatively large sans-serif font, it is aimed at slightly younger audiences than its predecessors, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg:The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter and I Dissent!: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy. It is also the only picture book biography of her written since her death. With sentences like, “Would you believe that my school even banned women from the library?” and attention paid to Ginsburg’s other interests, like Greek mythology (when she was a child), dancing, and opera (throughout her life), and others, this biography makes Ginsburg relatable. The realistic illustrations which include Ginsburg enjoying her many hobbies, holdin

Review: The Christmas Mitzvah

Image
The Christmas Mitzvah by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Michelle Laurentia Agatha Creston Books Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org The Christmas Mitzvah by Jeff Gottesfeld nearly brought me to tears. More than once. Inspired by the real-life Al Rosen of Milwaukee, this book tells the story, in simple but effective language, of how this Jewish man volunteered to take over work for those celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. He worked all sorts of jobs, mostly unskilled, and passed the tradition down to his children and grandchildren, as well as inspiring people around the world to substitute for others on their holy days. In a nice touch, the fictitious version of Al continues his mitzvah for exactly 36 years - twice chai (18), the Hebrew number associated with life.    The brightly colored illustrations complement the text beautifully, showing a truly diverse city. The illustrator does not shy away from depicting the physical effort r

Review: Recipe for Disaster

Image
Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido Versify Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucio is not just tasty but also filling. Rebelling by embracing tradition, Hannah embarks on secret bat mitzvah lessons, given by her mother’s estranged rabbi sister. Hannah explores what being Jewish means to her as she compares herself to - and unwittingly judges - her friends and relatives of varying Jewish commitment, observance, and background. An antisemitic incident makes her further examine her Jewish identity. Using the framework of recipes - for friendship, for Judaism - for Hannah, who loves to bake, is effective.   Recipe for Disaster is a clear contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Its portrayal of a daughter of an interfaith marriage, struggling with her Jewish identity, obviously meets the requirement for authentic portrayal of Jewish life. With its beautiful writing and authentic understanding of this age gr

Review: Sunday with Savta

Image
Sunday with Savta by Wiley Blevins, illustrated by Eliahou Eric Bokobza Reycraft Books (imprint of Newmark Learning LLC) Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer   Buy at Bookshop.org When the unnamed protagonist’s grandmother visits from Israel, Savta takes her grandson to the Statue of Liberty and to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan (unnamed in the text). Grandmother and grandson enter a series of rooms with paintings representing Jewish holidays and certain events in Israeli history; Savta identifies each holiday and shares a family story about it. Although he is planning to celebrate his bar mitzvah in Israel in less than 2 years, the boy seems to know nearly nothing about Jewish holidays. It strains credulity that an 11-year-old who plans on having a bar mitzvah would have so little familiarity with Jewish holidays and traditions. When the boy goes to Israel a year and a half later, we learn that his grandmother has died. He goes to visit her gra

Review: Summer of Stolen Secrets

Image
Summer of Stolen Secrets by Julie Sternberg Viking (imprint of Penguin Random House) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org From its opening pages with protagonist Catarina’s distinct voice to its poignant ending, Summer of Stolen Secrets is a unique and age-appropriate take on how the trauma of the Holocaust and survivors’ guilt can reverberate for generations. When New Yorker Catarina visits her cousin Lexie in Louisiana, she meets her paternal grandmother for the first time. Catarina knows only that Safta disowned her son, Catarina’s father, when he married her mom, a non-Jew. As she probes into Safta’s past, she finds out that there is much more than spitefulness or provincialism behind this family rift. Based on - and dedicated to - the author’s own grandmother, and based on her family’s Baton Rouge department store, Summer of Stolen Secrets brings the Jewish South to life. Sternberg addresses sensitive and weighty issues, but at the s

Review: Benjy's Blanket

Image
 Benjy's Blanket adapted by Miguel Gouveia, illustrated by Raquel Catalina Green Bean Books Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org Benjy’s Blanket , adapted by Miguel Gouveia and illustrated by Raquel Catalina, is the eighth (that I know of!) picture book that retells the old Yiddish folktale, Something from Nothing . A grandfather sews something - usually a coat, here a blanket - for his grandchild. The child outgrows the item or it becomes too worn to use, and the grandfather keeps reusing smaller and smaller scraps - turning them into a jacket, a vest, and so on. When there is nothing left of the original blanket, it turns out something remains - the story! With a beautiful, soothing palette of browns, greys, turquoise and touches of yellow, endpapers that show sewing patterns, and a smaller trim size for smaller hands, Benjy’s Blanket is a lovely - but not necessary - addition to the books that have already adapted this folktale. As in all vers

Review: Rah! Rah! Mujadara

Image
 Rah! Rah! Mujadara by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh, illustrated by Claudine Gévr Kar-Ben Publishing Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org Rah! Rah! Mujadara is a board book celebration of the diverse foods - and people - of Israel. The book portrays children of all colors and religions (as indicated by their headwear) enjoying everything from the iconic Ashkenazi bagel to falafel, mujadara, and more. Unfortunately, the rhyming is off (gush and smush do not rhyme; nor do tell and Israel) and strain to scan (shake-a, shake-a/shak-SHUK-a). A useful introduction to the variety of foods enjoyed by Israelis. Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here! Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband two daughters, ages 15 and 13, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.

Review: The Ninth Night of Hanukkah

Image
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Shahar Kober Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer   Buy at Bookshop.org The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica Perl celebrates not just Hanukkah, but neighborliness and the importance of traditions both old and new. A family has just moved into their new home and can’t find the box with their Judaica items. As the nights pass without the box turning up, siblings Max and Rachel ask an array of neighbors from different backgrounds for help, borrowing candles, eating French fries instead of latkes, making do with chocolate chips instead of chocolate gelt, and so on. Each night ends with the child-pleasing refrain, “It was nice… but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” The final night of Hanukkah passes without the box, but the children decide to invite the neighbors over for a ninth night of Hanukkah, representing the shamash, the helper candle. Perl explicitly makes the connection between the shamash helping the o