Posts Tagged Jewish

Light Years by Tammar Stein

Like many people, I’m thinking a lot about Israel these days. I think that this week, as I get back on track with blogging, I’ll focus on some great Israel books. I’ve already blogged about my new favorite YA Israel novel — Freefall by Anna Levine — now it’s time to go back a bit and blog about one of my other favorite YA Israel novels: Light Years by Tammar Stein.

Light Years

Light Years

Light Years tells the story of Maya, an Israeli young woman who is just finishing her army service when a suicide bombing blows up a restaurant where her boy friend was waiting for her. The trouble is: she was trying to figure out whether to tell him she was going to still go to the U.S. to go to college, even though he didn’t want her to go.  The story is wonderful — the way it carries you back and forth between Maya’s present, where she’s in college in Virginia, and her past, in Israel with Dov in the time leading up to and following the bombing. It’s a great love story — as Maya remembers what it was to be in love with Dov, and what it means to now be falling for someone else.

But more than anything else, it takes you right back to Israel. To the way it feels to be in Israel — not with the threat of bombings, but rather with the taste of the food, the smell of the air, the way people relate to one another. It’s one of those books you don’t put down once you start reading it, that captures you. It’s one of those books that even in the cold beginning of January, in the safety of America, you remember what it feels like to be back in Israel.

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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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Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks by Amy Schwartz

Since it’s Friday and I’m thinking ahead to Shabbat, I thought I’d blog about one of my favorite Shabbat books — Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks by Amy Schwartz.
Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks

Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks

Moskowitz (as my children like to call the book), is one of the first books published by the incredibly talented writer/ illustrator, Amy Schwartz, who is responsible for some of my favorite mainstream books — like Bea and Mr. Jones, Annabelle Swift, Kindergartener,  and A Glorious Day, to name a few. In this book, Schwartz creates a very special kind of Shabbat book — one that is perfect for families of all denominations and beliefs — no mean feat to be sure. Moskowitz is the story of an older woman who has moved from her family home where she raised her children into an apartment. “This apartment will never be a home,” she says at the beginning of the story.

However, something almost magical seems to happen when her son Sam brings her a box in her old house, a box that contains her old Shabbat candlesticks. She puts them on the table and when she wakes up the next morning, she sees how tarnished they are in the sunlight. So she buys some polish for them. Once they are polished, they look so beautiful that she can’t help but feel badly that they are sitting on such a plain table, so she finds a tablecloth. And on, and on. While the candles don’t do anything special, by the end of the week, her apartment has been completely unpacked and turned into a home — and she’s decided to invite the family over to have a nice Shabbat dinner. 

It’s a lovely story — perfect for discussing the loneliness that older adults can feel, for playing games with your children that involve having them clean things (!). It’s a great book for sharing with grandparents (in my experience, a lot of parents and grandparents tear up during the story). It’s just plain lovely.

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Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael

So, it’s still a couple of weeks until Thanksgiving but I’m realizing that when I give book suggestions about a holiday, doing it a day or so before the holiday doesn’t help folks who want to buy the book, or get it from the library. So, with that in mind, this is a great book for getting your kids ready for Thanksgiving.
Rivka's First Thanksgiving

Rivka's First Thanksgiving

Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael is a real winner. The story takes place on the Lower East Side on NY around 1910. Rivka and her family have recently moved to the U.S. from the old world and, at school, Rivka learns about Thanksgiving. She comes to her grandmother and asks whether they could celebrate Thanksgiving. Not sure, her grandmother heads to her local rabbi who says: NO! And for me, this is the best part: Rivka doesn’t feel good about this decision and so she decides to do something about it. She decides to write a very respectful letter to the rabbi to explain why it would seem to her that they should be able to celebrate Thanksgiving — after all isn’t the story of running from persecution a familiar one to the Jews of the Lower East Side? Celebrating the freedoms afford to one in America was something she felt should be mandated, not disputed.

And, at the end of the story, the rabbi listens to her reasoning and admits he made a mistake. She has to get up in front of their beit din (rabbinic court) and explain her position (it’s a great illustration or this little girl in front of all these men with white beards and black coats) — which she does. It’s a story of standing up for something you believe in. It’s a story about respecting your elders. It’s a story of working within the system for change. Basically, it’s a great story.

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The Flag With Fifty-Six Stars by Susan Goldman Rubin

Today is Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day) and so I’m thinking of the tremendous heroism and sacrifice of the members of the military — now and in the past.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

Having grown up in Canada where people put poppies on their coats today, and where there is a minute of silence at 11:11 a.m., I wanted to recommend a book about soldiers — preferably one that incorporates In Flanders Fields, the haunting poem we were forced to memorize as children. Sadly, while there is such a book — In Flanders Fields by Linda Granfield — I have to admit that I haven’t read it and so it is difficult to recommend it (though if you try it out, let me know what you think).

However, this week also marks Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass, a night that some point to as the first major act of the Nazi government against the Jews in Germany. So in memory of both of these events, I wanted to recommend a really special, albeit it painful, book.

The Flag With the Fifty-Six Stars

The Flag With the Fifty-Six Stars

The Flag With Fifty-Six Stars by Susan Goldman Rubin is a haunting portrayal of the last days of WW2 when Jewish prisoners in the Mathausen concentration camp have heard that the American army is on their way to liberate them. Despite the fact that the prisoners are sick, having eaten virtually nothing for years and filthy from the squalor they’ve been forced to live in, they decide that they want to give a gift to these American soldiers who are coming to help them. And so, scrimping and saving and looking for scraps, they heroically find enough supplies to create an American flag to greet their saviors. However, while they get the requisite number of stripes right, they wind up creating a flag with fifty-six stars. It’s the true story of the creation of the flag and the incredible courage of the prisoners and the soldiers that Susan Goldman Rubin retells in this fascinating book.

It’s not a story for the faint of heart, but an important story nonetheless as we remember not only the Jews and other nations that were killed in the Holocaust, but also the brave troops that fought, and died, to liberate them.

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Abraham’s Search for God by Jacqueline Jules

In synagogues around the world, Jews will be reading about Abraham this Saturday, so I thought I’d provide a nice, kid friendly Abraham book. The problem with Biblical stories is that if you aren’t a true believer or deeply religious, chances are, you feel a bit conflicted about the “truth” of the story. So, do you read the story to the small child as a story just like Leonardo the Terrible Monster? Or, do you make a point of saying this is real or this happened or this is something I/we (kind of) believe in?

Abraham's Search for God

Abraham's Search for God

I’ll let you figure that all out, but in the meantime, here’s a nice story that won’t make you cringe. Based on the midrashim (stories written to fill out gaps of information in the Bible), Abraham’s Search for God by Jacqueline Jules deals with how Abraham “discovered” God. It’s filled with great examples of deductive reasoning and offers a nice way to talk about God (even for those who aren’t sure what they think of God). Possibly best of all, it’s beautifully illustrated with art by Natascia Ugliano.

So here’s the gist: it’s a Bible story that won’t make you squirm, with pictures that are outstanding, on a topic that you probably want to introduce to your child, even if you aren’t a true believer. It might sound like faint praise, but for a Bible story, it’s quite amazing.

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As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson

Some books just sweep you away. Richard Michelson’s latest illustrated book (because I don’t think that many 8+ year olds would be attracted to the picture book label), As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom, does just that.

As Good As Anybody

As Good As Anybody

The memorable snapshot of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel marching together in Selma, Alabama, serves as the jumping off point for the book.  Tracing the childhood events and inspirations for both men’s activism in sparse text, Michelson, aided by Raul Colon’s stunning illustrations, mentions but doesn’t dwell in the prejudice that they both faced, but rather demonstrates the inspiration that both received to stand tall and believe that they were “as good as anybody.”

Picture book biographies can sometimes feel bogged down by the facts, but this one truly doesn’t. By the end, when the two leaders join together for the famous march and “[t]here were not enough police in the state to hold the marchers back. There were not enough mayors and governors and judges to stop them,” you and your children will be hard pressed not to feel inspired as well.

Warning: there are some Holocaust moments in this book but they are not graphic.

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