Posts Tagged Amy Hest

Immigration Stories

OK, let’s not talk about  how long it’s been. The point is, I’m writing again, right?

So, I’m inspired by my 2nd grader who is studying immigration, but probably more so by his wonderful teacher and the creative ways she is introducing this topic to her class. As I looked at her book box of immigration stories for the kids, I was surprised by how few Jewish titles she had. Now, some were in the hands of happy children, but it did make me think, what are the best Jewish immigration picture books? So, here’s the list:

Best for the Ellis Island experience:

The Memory CoatThe Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff is probably my favorite for the Ellis Island experience. Rachel and her cousin Grisha have made it to Ellis Island, along with Rachel’s family. While horsing around (see, kids in the olden days did that too!), Rachel knocks into Grisha and causes his eye to get scratched. Wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact that a damaged eye earns Grisha the scary white chalk mark on his coat, the sign that he won’t be admitted to the United States and will have to go back home. Luckily, Rachel is a plucky heroine who saves the day with some quick thinking. Great for 7-9 year olds.

Best for younger kids:

Mendel's AccordionI’m sure I’ve written about Mendel’s Accordion by Heidi Smith Hyde elsewhere. Beautifully illustrated, it tells the story of Mendel from Melnitze who is a Klezmer player. When things get bad, Mendel leaves Melnitze with old his accordion. Everywhere he goes, Mendel makes friends and makes music. Mendel eventually has children in New York, and it’s his grandson Sam who finds his accordion one day and learns to play again. A simple (no Cossacks!) immigration story, with a lovely intergenerational feel, not to mention the accordion! For fans of Mendel’s Accordion, there is now Feivel’s Flying Horses by the same author and illustrator team. This time taking place at Coney Island, it’s a lovely quiet choice, though some will see sadness in the fact that Feivel has to go to America without his wife and children. Luckily, at the end of the story they are reunited! (Mendel’s Accordion is great for 4-6 year olds; Feivel is better for 6 & 7s.)

Best for older readers:

When Jessie Came Across the SeaWhen Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest is beautiful and really quite perfect. Jessie is chosen to come to America by the rabbi of her small village. Sadly, it means leaving her beloved grandmother. Luckily, in addition to settling in with her extended family and proving herself to be a great lace maker, she falls in love with Lou. She waits until finally she has enough money to send for her grandmother, before agreeing to marry Lou. Sigh. (great for 7-9 year olds)

Best Link to the Statue of Liberty:

Naming LibertyOK, this is a made up category, clearly. But I did want to talk about Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen. This book parallels the story of French artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s creation of the Statue of Liberty, with the story of a Jewish family immigrating to America. The story goes back and forth between the two “stories,” finally coming together nicely at exactly the point when you’d expect them to come together. Throughout the story of the family though, Gitl, the young girl, is concern about finding the right American name. What does she decide on? Liberty! (But you can call her Libby.)  (Good for older readers 8-10 years old.)

Next post will be dedicated to all the great immigration stories I forgot to mention…

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Fancy Aunt Jess by Amy Hest

Fancy Aunt Jess

Fancy Aunt Jess

While writing my post about Amy Schwartz and thinking about my favorites among her books, one book that deserved a post all on its own is Fancy Aunt Jess, written by Amy Hest (of The Friday Nights of Nana fame) and illustrated by Amy Schwartz.

I adore this book. I adore how quiet it is and how sweet it is. I love the portrayal of Becky and her affection for her Aunt Jess, who she thinks of as Fancy Aunt Jess. I love that it’s a bit of a romantic book — because ultimately it concerns the fact that Aunt Jess won’t get married until she meets someone who gives her goosebumps — but it’s not over the top and embarrassing. It’s a bit of a girl book but both my boys sat through it (my oldest is already thinking about who he’s going to marry — at 5 — so he had a vested interest in figuring out how the whole marriage thing works).

But most of all, I love the fact that it turns out the characters are Jewish, which you might not have expected. It turns out that when Becky sleeps over at Aunt Jess’ house, one of the things they do is go to (a clearly Reform) shul on Shabbat. And that in fact, that’s where Aunt Jess meets Harry (uncle to a Becky-like girl Nicole). And I love the fact that the last page of the book features the two getting married — cute and romantic but not Disney — under a chuppah. Just like it’s normal for a chuppah to be the last page of a book. The characters being Jewish is really no big deal to them, it’s not a big part of the story, it’s a character in the story, a detail.

“Mama, they’re Jewish!” my 5-year old yelped when we got to the part where they go to shul. “Just like we’re Jewish.” He sees Jewish people in books all the time, but they are always Jewish books. This one just slipped it in and that made all the difference.

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The Friday Nights of Nana by Amy Hest

The Friday Nights of Nana

The Friday Nights of Nana

It’s almost Shabbat and I’m thinking of the millions of things I won’t have time to do. Unlike the characters in Amy Hest’s The Friday Nights of Nana, I don’t spend the day getting ready: tidying things up, taking a nice walk to get flowers, baking an apple pie and putting on special clothes. But I really, really wish I did.

There is something so soothing about this classic story of a girl and her grandmother. I love reading it at bedtime and taking the time to really sink into Hest’s lyrical descriptions and illustrator Claire Nivola’s exquisite illustrations. I love the description of the moment when Jennie and Nana finally light the candles:

“Is it time?” I ask.

“Now,” Nana says, and finally it’s the best time. Nana is lighting candles and our dresses are touching and she is whispering Sabbath prayers and no one makes a peep. Not even Lewis.

And I love the ending, when the family is all together (with the mom discreetly breastfeeding at the table!):

Outside, the wind howls. Snow whips up in great white swirls.

But here inside, the candles flicker. A Sabbath song is in the air. It’s time for pie and we’re all here together on the Friday nights of Nana.

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