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Review: Code Name Kingfisher

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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: Becca and Benj

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Becca and Benj (Becca the Brave, Book 1) by Judith Henderson, illustrated by Amy Jindra Reycraft Books, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Judy Ehrenstein Buy at Bookshop.org 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

Review: My Mezuzah

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My Mezuzah written and illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky Apples & Honey Press (Behrman House), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Judy Ehrenstein Buy at Bookshop.org A young rabbit jumps up and down in an effort to touch an interior mezuzah in this board book. After several not-quite-high-enough attempts, Mommy comes to save the day by little up her little bunny, and the mezuzah is kissed at last. Uncluttered illustrations feature a palette of bright blue, yellow, and orange. An afterword depicts several designs of mezuzot and a brief explanation of what one is and how it marks a Jewish space. This is clearly a book for a Jewish audience, as a knowledge of why a child would want to kiss a mezuzah is needed; there is nothing in the text or endnote to explain why this is done. The persistence shown is fairly brief and there is no problem-solving included before the mother steps in to assist. This book has a very limited text and the majority of the explicit Jewish content is in the e

Review: Finn & Ezra's Bar Mitzvah Time Loop

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Finn and Ezra's Bar Mitzvah Time Loop by Joshua S. Levy Katherine Tegan Books (imprint of HarperCollins), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Leah Cypess Buy at Bookshop.org Two very different boys. One (literally) never-ending bar mitzvah weekend. Finn and Ezra seem to have nothing in common, except that both boys are inexplicably trapped in a time loop that has them living their bar mitzvah weekends over and over and over and… Ezra is the middle child in a large Orthodox family, feeling like an afterthought even at his own bar mitzvah. Finn is the suffocatingly adored only child of secular Jewish parents. Ezra is laid back, avoidant, and hasn’t done much to end his time loop… until he meets Finn, who is competitive, likes to be in charge, and is determined to get to the bottom of the problem. Even if some of Finn’s ideas for how to escape the time loop strike Ezra as a little dubious, it doesn’t really matter, does it? No matter what they do, time will always re-set. Or will it

Review: The Night War

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The Night War by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley Dial (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Sarah Aronson Buy at Bookshop.org “We don’t choose how we feel, but we choose how we act. Choose courage.” The Night War is a story about the Holocaust. It’s a story about bravery at a time when choices were not clear. But mostly, it’s a story of strong women and girls at a time when strength was needed. The novel follows twelve-year-old Miriam Schrieber, a Jewish girl fighting to survive the horrors of WWII. At the start of the story, she lives with her family in occupied France. When the adults are rounded up, Miriam and her neighbor’s two-year-old daughter Nora, escape in the chaos. Nora’s mom implores her to be brave—and to meet them in Zurich. Saved by a Catholic nun, the children are sent to Chenonceaux, at the border of occupied France and French-controlled Vichy. Nora goes to a young Catholic couple wanting to start a family, while Miri—pretending to be Chri

Review: Waiting for Lumpy

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Waiting for Lumpy by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Teresa Ramos Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House Publishers), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Jacqueline Jules   Buy at Bookshop.org Waiting for Lumpy begins in winter when Ella’s parents announce that a new baby is coming. As the current baby of the family, Ella isn’t sure she likes this news. Her older brother, Robby, on the other hand, is happy to suggest names for the new baby such as Frogella or Horseradish after his favorite Passover food. In summer, when Mommy’s figure becomes round, Ella says they should name the baby, Lumpy. She also complains that there is not room anymore for her to sit on her mother’s lap. Finally, it is Rosh Hashanah and the family welcomes their long awaited new addition. They choose both an English name and a Hebrew name to announce at a naming ceremony held in the synagogue on Shabbat.    This delightful early reader in seven short chapters goes through not only the seasons of

Review: The Effects of Pickled Herring

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The Effects of Pickled Herring by Alex Schumacher Mango, 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Merle Eisman Carrus Buy at Bookshop.org Remember the days of trying to fit in, in middle school, trying to make friends, participate in sports and get your homework done? Reading this graphic novel will help any teenager who is grappling with the changes that are happening to them, and the changes that happen to our grandparents as they age. Micah Gadsky and his sister Alana are preparing for their B'nai Mitzvah. As they are learning their prayers, Torah and Haftorah portions, they are also learning many life lessons. This story follows Micah as his voice cracks while practicing his Hebrew prayers, as he worries about not remembering what to say when he gets up on the bima, and as he struggles to get up the courage to ask a girl he likes to his Bar Mitzvah. We follow Micah as he goes to school and negotiates the trials of adolescence. While Micah finds the social scene in middle school di

Review: Five Stories

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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: Saliman and the Memory Stone

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Saliman and the Memory Stone by Erica Lyons, illustrated by Yinon Ptahia Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Karen Shakman Buy at Bookshop.org Saliman and the Memory Stone joins a growing collection of recent books for children that paint a  diverse picture of Israeli Jews. In 1841, a young boy travels from his home in Yemen to resettle in Jerusalem as part of the First Aliyah. Young Saliman is sad to leave, afraid he will not remember his home and his village. Before he goes, he tells the goats he will always remember them and pockets a loose stone from his house and calls it his memory stone. Thus begins a journey to retain his past while heading toward his future. Lyon’s language is lyrical, capturing both the difficulty of the journey and a palpable sense of a loving family and tight-knit community, even as they must endure a long and arduous journey (which is helpfully illustrated in a map at the end of the book). Throughout