Mendel’s Accordion by Heidi Smith Hyde

I feel badly that I didn’t get a book in before the weekend so I wanted to choose a really good book today to make up for it. After this past Shabbat, Mendel’s Accordion is my natural choice.

This book fits my requirements for a great book for a number of reasons:

First, it’s beautiful. The illustrations are light and delicate and there’s lots to see on every page.

Mendel's Accordion

Mendel's Accordion

Second, it’s a lovely story. The narrative centers around a man named Mendel who loves to play his accordion in a place called Melnitze (which is ironically less than 50 miles from the place where my grandparents all hailed from). When things start getting really tough in the village (and this is left deliberately vague — no pogroms or soldiers are mentioned or seen), he decides to come to America. He makes the long journey with others and comes to New York eventually. At every turn in the story, he finds people to play with accordion alongside. The book ends with his great-grandson finding his accordion and deciding to learn to play as well. I think it does a great job of capturing all these familiar tropes (the coming to America, the making it in America, the new generations) in an accessible way for young readers.

And third of all, there’s something that’s just plain fun about it. My 5 year old and I love talking about the different characters from the Old Country — Shmelke is our favorite and has become a frequent special imaginary guest at our Shabbat table (like this past Shabbat when Shmelke actually brought Mendel with him). We’ve been reading this book for probably 1.5 years and he still loves saying “Shmelke.” We’ve also spent a long time talking about the instruments that all the players play (if I were a better mom/educator, I would have also introduced him to the sounds of Klezmer music so he can have that association). 

Basically, it’s just a really nice read. And at each age, he’s finding more and more to like in the story. Maybe next year, we can use the book as a jumping off point to discuss how people came to America or to talk about his grandparents. And maybe I’ll pick up a Klezmer CD and he’ll be able to put together the scenes of the Klezmer band with the actual music. There’s lots of time for this book — I know we’ll keep reading it and re-reading it, which is one of the best things I can say about a book.

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