Archive for December, 2010

What About the Rest? Part III: Jewish Books for Teen Readers

With three 2010 Jewish children’s books at the top of my list: The Rooster Prince of Breslov, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword and Life, After , and guilt over the excellent books I left behind dwindling as I report on my “pretty close to best” list, I am feeling excited about the close of the year. To date, I have provided three picture books: Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty, Jackie’s Gift, and Modeh Ani: A Good Morning Book, along with one book for Middle Grade readers, Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp. My 10 for 2010 list is up to seven. Here are the final three:

Jewish Books for Teen Readers (Young Adults)

This was a tough group as there were so many books to read and a number of excellent books to decide between for my “pretty close to best” list. In the end, it came down to “the rule” – those books I remember and will recommend. With that as my guide, it turned into a much easier task.

An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin. © 2010, Carolrhoda Books. Ages 10-18. A riveting account of the murder of Mary Phagan, a poor, white, 13-year-old factory worker from Atlanta, Georgia, and the trial of her accused murderer, Leo Frank, a 29-year-old, Jewish man from New York. I often had to stop and remember that this event actually took place on American soil in the 20th century. This is historical writing at its finest. Mesmerizing, factual, leading the reader step-by-step to the unfolding of a tragic occurrence in American history that began with the murder of an innocent child and ended with the murder of an innocent man. Photographs, newspaper clippings, primary sources and excellent research have created a fabulous tribute to a terrible story.

Annexed by Sharon Dogar. © 2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Ages 10-18. Historical fiction, based on Anne Frank’s  The Diary of a Young Girl, that lets us imagine the inside of Peter van Pels’ head as he lived in the Secret Annex with Anne and her family. The novel is excellent, the writing brilliant, crisp yet profoundly emotional. Peter is in the sick bay of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, hours before Liberation, remembering his time in the Annex. Accompanying him in his memories, we feel his longing to be a regular teenage boy, his loneliness while surrounded by people, his wrestling with his faith and his desire to have some kind of intimate relationship before “the end.” The power of this story lies in our own memories of Anne’s diary, knowing the same people and what they meant to Anne, now seeing them through Peter’s eyes. Despite knowing the final outcome, the strong, powerful writing reminds us to keep our ears open listening for the voices of those who perished. We must never forget.

Hush by Eishes Chayil. © 2010, Walker & Company. Ages 14-18. In an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, NY 10-year-old Devory is being repeatedly raped by her yeshiva-bocher brother. During a Shabbat sleepover, her best friend, Gittel pretends she is sleeping, but witnesses one of these events. Despite what she saw and heard with her own eyes and ears, Gittel is told that her experience was a “story” created by her mentally disturbed friend. When Devory commits suicide, her family and the community does everything possible to put the matter behind them, until Gittel, now 18, marries. Suddenly, her memories of that fateful night reawaken as she begins to have sexual relations with her new husband. Realizing the great injustice done to her best friend, she is determined to make it right. This story about allowing tradition and religious devotion to take precedence over common sense and morality, about worrying more about “what the neighbors will think” than “what is best for my child,” is not just about an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, NY. It could be a story about an Irish Catholic community in Boston, MA, a Mormon Community in Provo, UT or a Southern Baptist community in Hartsville, TN. Our challenge is to LISTEN to and BELIEVE our children when they speak to us.  Kol Ha Kavod Eishes Chayil and Walker & Company for bringing this story to light. It needed telling and not just to Jews.

Those are my picks for “pretty close to best” 2010 Jewish Books for Teen Readers, thus finishing my 10 for 2010.  The entire list represents a wide spectrum of Jewish history, Jewish life, Jewish story and Jewish experience much like the Jewish people today – diverse, vocal and strong.

I will continue to read, dream and look forward to your comments. I wish you all a happy and healthy 2011.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my own collection or my local public library.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

What About the Rest? Part II: Jewish Books for Older Readers

Once again, after choosing my three best Jewish children’s books for 2010: The Rooster Prince of Breslov, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword and Life, After, guilt over the excellent books I left behind set in. Is there something called “reviewer’s remorse”? Moving on…I decided to go back and look at the books I remember and will recommend and from those created a “pretty close to best” list.  I have written about my choices for Jewish Books for Younger Readers. Today:

Jewish Books for Older Readers (Middle Grades)

It appears, at the moment, that YA (Young Adult) books are taking over the publishing world. What is the difference between Middle Grade and YA books? In a word…sex. Once a book moves past an innocent peck on the cheek or lips and into some heavy petting and beyond, it has crossed into the world of YA. Of course, there is more to it than that, depth of subject matter, story lines, adult language, etc.  all make a difference, but really when push comes to shove the sexuality of the characters is what determines the reading level.

As a result, while there were a number of books to read in this category (Older Readers – Middle Grade), there were not as many as in years past.  Of the books I read, none spun me around like Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Many were good, a few were great, but only one book even came close to Mirka in being excellent and timely.

Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp by Trish Marx, photographs by Cindy Karp. ©2010, Lee and Low Books. Ages 10-15. It is wonderful to have a book that shows efforts being made toward peaceful reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians. Sharing Our Homeland is especially good, because it shows the work being done with children that hopefully will ensure a future of peace between Israel and Palestine.  While there are a few minor issues that may be argued when reading the book, overall the text handles “hot button” matters with a balance and directness rarely seen in books on this subject. Although published in a picture book format, the text is most appropriate for older readers, the photographs simply adding a “scrapbook quality” to what is described and discussed.

That is my pick for “pretty close to best” 2010 Jewish Book for Older Readers (Middle Grades). Tomorrow, the final chapter in this series What About the Rest? Part III: “pretty close to best” Books for Teen Readers (High School). Now, that was a tough group.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
The book used in this review was provided by the publisher.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

What About the Rest? Part I: Jewish Books for Younger Readers

Having selected my three top choices for the best Jewish children’s books for 2010: The Rooster Prince of Breslov, Hereville and Life, After,  I am feeling a bit guilty about the books I left on the table. Those books that were also great but a choice had to be made, so some excellent books are just sitting here. My list of good Jewish books for 2010 is quite long. In fact, I will add many 2010 books to the forwordsbooks Catalog of Books. Nevertheless, I will follow my rule and go with the standouts – those books I remember and will recommend from the stacks of books I read this year – in choosing titles for my “pretty close to best” list. In keeping with models I have seen elsewhere, I have chosen an additional seven titles, making my list a nice round 10 for 2010.

Jewish Books for Younger Readers (Picture Books)

My problem is I rarely read a children’s picture book I don’t like in some way (unless there is some human-animal conversation in a non-fantasy based story book.) I will admit, however, to being bored reading the same themes in many Jewish picture books, particularly Jewish holidays, Bible stories and the Jewish immigrant experience. That being said, even those subjects can be brought to life in new and creative ways by a talented author and/or illustrator.

After The Rooster Prince of Breslov, which I will continue to say blew me out of the water, there were three additional books for younger readers that really stood out for me this year:

Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola. Ages 5-10. ©2010, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. “Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” ~ from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus ~ Having learned these words by heart in elementary school, I realized reading this marvelous book how much I did not know about the poem, its author and the times in which she lived. Emma Lazarus was able to become the voice of the Statue of Liberty because she met and supported the immigrants that came through New York. The watercolor and gouache illustrations accompanying the simple but powerful text are outstanding and highly reflective of early 19th century artwork.

Jackie’s Gift by Sharon Robinson. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. ©2010, Viking. Ages 4-8. I am always in search of books about about interfaith relations, the December Dilemma, sharing holidays (not combining holidays) and the like, and while this book may not exactly be in that category, it is currently the closest thing we have been offered this year.  The great Jackie Robinson is moving two houses down from young baseball fan, Steve Satlow, who could not be happier. While some of his neighbors are angry that an African-American family is moving into the neighborhood, Steve and his Jewish-American family befriend the Robinsons the moment they move in. The new friendship blossoms until Jackie brings a Christmas tree over to the Satlows as a way to thank them for their warm welcome. Once the Robinson’s realize their mistake and the Satlow’s clear any misunderstanding, a family legend is born.  This charming story celebrates sharing traditions, fostering real friendship and the true meaning of giving.

Modeh Ani: A Good Morning Book Adapted by Sarah Gershman. Illustrated by Kristina Swarner. ©2010, EKS Publishing Company. Ages 2-8. In this companion volume to their Sydney Taylor Award winning, The Bedtime Shema: A Goodnight Book, Gershman and Swarner once again team up, this time to help us start the day thanking God for the gifts that surround us. Using simple language and soft, brightly colored illustrations, they set the tone for a day filled with wonder and gratitude. Excerpts from the traditional Morning Blessing prayers in Hebrew and English translation are provided in the back of the book along with an explanation of how to incorporate the Modeh Ani into your daily living.  Couple this with All of Me! A Book of Thanks by Molly Bang and your family’s day will start off great.

Those are my picks for “pretty close to best” 2010 Jewish Books for Young Readers. Tomorrow, What About the Rest? Part II: “pretty close to best” Books for Older Readers (Middle Grades).

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my own collection or my local public library.
I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book title referred to on my web site and purchase it from Amazon,

I may receive a very small commission on your purchase.

You will incur no additional cost, however.

I appreciate your support.

Book Review | The Rooster Prince of Breslov
by Ann Redisch Stampler

Score: 5

Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin © 2010, Clarion Books. The author who gave us Schlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost and Something for Nothing, both excellent retellings of Jewish folktales, has really outdone herself this time. Taking an 18th century, classic story from Reb Nachman of Breslov and putting a contemporary twist to it that [...]

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Book Review | Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
by Barry Deutsch

Score: 5

© 2010, Amulet Books. I will admit that every Jewish graphic novel I review has to pass my Maus test. I know, that is probably unfair, since Maus is an adult book, and it won a Pulitzer Prize. However, Art Spiegelman set a standard many years ago, and my belief has always been that Jewish [...]

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