Posts Tagged shabbat

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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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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