Archive for the ‘Ometz Lev/Courage’ Category

Be Strong and of Good Courage/Ometz Lev

We are entering the Jewish month of Nissan, the month during which Jews and their families all over the world celebrate the holiday of Passover.  At a special meal, the Seder,  using a special book, the Haggadah, we retell the story of the Israelites’ miraculous escape from slavery to the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh and recount their wandering in the desert as a free people. During the Seder, we are reminded that we must see ourselves as if we, each of us, personally went out of Egypt. As if we, each of us, personally were a slave and now we are free. As if we, each of us, personally, had been redeemed by the Holy One.

What I think about each Passover – OK,  after the Seder invitations are out, the plague bags are decided upon and the menu is finalized…What I think about as I am putting together our Haggadah, is the amount of courage it must have required for the Ancient Israelites to pack up their families, what few possessions they had and to leave it all behind, for something they could not see or touch-freedom. And though we read several times in the Torah, that the people complained and  may have wanted to go back, they never did. Freedom once tried cannot easily be returned.

This month’s book list honors the courage shown by our ancestors as they travelled out of their slavery and into freedom by providing a taste of that courage through the reading experience.

Younger Readers

Sheila Rae, the Brave. Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow Books, © 1987. Everyone knows that Sheila Rae is very, very brave. She giggles when the principal walks by,  steps on sidewalk cracks, and rides her bike with no hands.  One day, however, after deciding to take a different path home from school, she loses her way.  Suddenly, she is not as brave as she thinks. Fortunately, she receives help from a very special source. Ages 4-8.

The Empty Pot. Written and illustrated by Demi. Henry Holt and Company, © 1990. The Emperor of China is growing old and must chose a successor.  He decides to give all the children in China a seed from his garden and tells them to grow it. Ping loves to grow plants, but no matter what he does, his seed does not grow. When all the other children bring pots full of beautiful flowers to share with the Emperor, will Ping have the courage to share his empty pot? Ages 4-8.

Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim. By Deborah Bodin Cohen. Illustrated by Jago. Kar-Ben Publishing, © 2009. Nachshon is a slave to the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh. He is very brave, avoiding the Pharaoh’s taskmasters and spying for his people, until he is invited to swim in the water. Then he steps back.  Nachshon is frightened by the water. When the slaves are freed from Pharaoh’s slavery and they find themselves at the Red Sea, however, someone must be the first to step in or the waters will not open. Who will have the courage to enter the sea first? Ages 5-9.

Mirette on the High Wire Written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, © 1992. Winner of the Caldecott Medal. Mirette’s mother runs a boarding house for performers visiting Paris. One day, Mirette meets a very talented man who is practicing walking the tightrope in her backyard. He dismisses her requests to learn this skill. Nevertheless, she begins to teach herself. Seeing that she has talent, and determination, he begins her training. Mirette learns however, that he will not take her on the road with him, because he is very afraid after suffering an accident. Can she help him find the courage to return to show business? Ages 5-10.

Call It Courage. Written and illustrated by Armstrong Sperry. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, © 1940. Winner of the Newbery Award. Mafutu is the son of the great chief of a Polynesian clan that worships the sea and courage. However, he is afraid of the water because when he was a young child the sea took his mother’s life and almost his own. In this classic story, Mafutu becomes a legend when he decides to overcome his fear and take on the challenges of the sea. Ages 8-12.

Older Readers

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Written and illustrated by Barry Deutsch. Amulet Books, © 2011. Winner of the Sydney Taylor Award for Older Readers. Mirka, an 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl, wants to fight dragons. In order to do that,  she must find a sword. No easy task in the Ultra-Orthodox community where she lives. However with the help of her wise stepmother, a talking pig, a wicked witch and an evil ogre, Mirka achieves her dream. Ages 10-14.

The Breadwinner. By Deborah Ellis. Groundwood Books, © 2000. Parvana and her family are living in a one room apartment in a bombed-out neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her father has been arrested for having a college education and is in prison. The only way for her mother, three siblings and herself to survive is for her to dress as a boy and earn a living on the streets. However, the consequence if she is caught…she does not want to think about, she must simply find the courage to do what must be done to survive.  Ages 11-14.

The Storyteller’s Beads. By Jane Kurtz. Harcourt Brace & Company, © 1998. Due to war, famine and drought, Sahay, a Christian orphan girl, must leave Ethiopia immediately. For religious reasons, Rahel, a blind, Jewish Ethiopian girl is also leaving the country. When these two girls’ paths cross, they must overcome deep animosities toward each other in order that they may both achieve their dreams: Freedom in another country. Ages 11-14.

Homeless Bird. By Gloria Whelan. HarperCollins Publishers, © 2000. A National Book Award Winner. Koly, a 13-year-old Indian girl,  is forced to marry a sickly boy. This is her fate. When he dies, she  becomes part of an Indian widows’ community. When her talent for embroidery is discovered by the community’s benefactor and a new young man begins to take interest in her, will she have the courage to change the path tradition and fate have handed her? Ages 13-16.

The Boy Who Dared: A Novel Based on the True Story of a Hitler Youth. By Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  Scholastic Press, © 2008. Not every German believed the propaganda that was fed to them during World War II. Some individuals did what they could to deliver a different message to the people. This is the story of one such individual who gave up his life for the truth. Ages 14-18.

* * * * * * * *

These titles provide a broad understanding of the value of Ometz Lev/Courage. As you sit at your Seder, whether at home or elsewhere,  listen carefully as the Haggadah is read. If you hear a story, a song or a prayer that sounds like it is describing a brave, daring or courageous moment, shout out, “Ometz Lev. Courage!”  Of course, others at the Seder may stare at you. That’s OK. You can share what you learned and the book you read later, during dinner.  If you are looking for additional information about Passover including a free downloadable Haggadah, visit

Wishing you a Passover season filled with fabulous food, fun and frogs,

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were from my personal collection and from 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 | Resistance Book 1
by Carla Jablonski

Score: 3

Art by Leland Purvis Color by Hilary Sycamore © 2010, :01/ First Second. In this exciting and emotionally powerful graphic novel set in France during World War II, three young people get involved in the French Resistance. Paul and his sister, Marie, must shepherd their Jewish friend, Henri, to a safe house in Paris to [...]

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Book Review | The Things a Brother Knows
by Dana Reinhardt

Score: 4.5

© 2010, Wendy Lamb Books, a division of Random House Children’s Books. Boaz Katznelson, the eldest son of a transplanted Israeli family, has everything going for him as he graduates from High School. At the top of his class and accepted to Ivy League schools across the east coast, he can choose just about any [...]

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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 [...]

Read the rest of this review »

And My Winners Are…

As the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee prepares to announce their 2010 award winners in the next few weeks, I thought I would post my hopes for the winning titles. As a former member of the Committee, I know how difficult a decision it is to choose one out of the many wonderful titles offered by publishers. This year is no exception.

I have spent the last couple  months locating, reading and reviewing most of the new Jewish titles published during this past year. My reviews for many of those books are or soon will be posted in the review section of my website. In trying to choose one “Best” book for each category, however, I looked to the books that stayed with me long after I had read them and to which I keep referring and recommending as the weeks have gone on. I have chosen these titles as my best for 2010.

Jewish Books for Younger Readers (Picture Books):

As usual, the picture book titles published during 2010 are, for the most part, about Jewish holidays (Hanukkah, Passover, Sukkot, etc.), bible stories or the Jewish immigrant experience. While there were a couple notable exceptions, my pick for the 2010 Best Jewish Book for Younger Readers is a book I cannot stop talking about and will be recommending to every parent I meet in the year ahead:

The Rooster Prince of Breslov by Ann Redisch Stampler. Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. ©2010, Clarion Books. Following her excellent, Shlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost and Something for Nothing, Ms. Stampler takes an 18th century, classic story from Reb Nachman of Breslov and gives it a contemporary twist that will open the eyes of many of today’s parents.

The young Prince of Breslov has had enough: “If he asked for a raisin, he was given a silver bowl of candied plums.” He has reached his tipping point, deciding to strip naked and become a rooster,  eating only the crumbs and corn people throw on the floor.

The king and queen, his parents, try discipline, doctors and magicians, to get him to change his behavior. Nothing works. Until a wise, old man comes to the palace, strips himself naked, gets on the prince’s level and actually LISTENS to and watches him. Slowly and gently, with the utmost patience, the wise old man  guides the prince back to humanity and transforms him into a mensch. The best part of the story is the wisdom and pride this outcome creates in the prince.

The illustrations are bright, brilliant and fantastic. Every page is a delight, capturing the story’s message in deeply powerful ways. I will read this to children of all ages, but mostly I will recommend it to adults as an excellent parenting manual. The Author’s Note at the back of the book is a must read.

Jewish Books for Older Readers (Middle Grades)

While I read a number of interesting books in this category, only one has stuck with me. I repeatedly recommend it to everyone I speak with about Jewish children’s books. My pick for the 2010 Best Jewish Book for Older Readers is:

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. ©2010, Amulet Books. The tag line on the top of the book reads, “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl.”  How can anyone resist reading this fantastic graphic novel? For someone unfamiliar with the Orthodox community, every part of the Orthodox Jewish culture is explained either within the text or in a footnote. For many readers this is just another part of the fantasy world that is set up in this intriguing and captivating story about Mirka, an 11-year-old Orthodox girl, who longs to fight dragons rather than learn how to knit, cook or sew. As if her stepmother’s chores, lessons and arguments aren’t enough, a magic pig that seems bent on ruining her life torments her. Her adventures begin upon finding herself locked in battle with the pig, saving the pig from some bullies, becoming indebted to a witch, then facing a troll to earn her reward. Mirka learns the importance of her stepmother’s lessons from knitting to arguing. This great read with fabulous artwork will thoroughly capture the minds of children in this age group.

Jewish Books for Teen Readers (High School)

Of the three categories, this was the most exciting. These YA authors managed to really “think outside of the box” when choosing their subjects, characters, plots and themes. New twists on Holocaust stories, a modern midrash of the Purim story, a friendship that shares 9/11 and the Argentinean terrorist bombings,  a fantasy novel involving the Rothschilds, an Israeli-American family facing PTSD, Anne Frank’s diary, an unflinching history about the lynching of Leo Frank, incest in the ultra-Orthodox community were some of the subjects I read about in these excellent works. Choosing one has been a wrenching experience, but I am going to stick with my previous statement and go with the book I have been recommending most often to others. My pick for the 2010 Best Jewish Book for Teen Readers is:

Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman. ©2010, Scholastic Press. Sarah Littman is the author of Confessions of a Closet Catholic, winner of the 2006 Sydney Taylor Award. In this, her latest novel, she takes us to Argentina to meet Dani Bensimon and her family. The Bensimons are troubled: by the loss of Dani’s aunt (her father’s sister) in the terrorist bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, by her father’s depression as a result, by the recession in Argentina, by her father’s business closing which has further compounded his depression. When her mother takes a job, and is injured in a street riot on her way home from work, the decision is made that they must move to New York and start a new life.

Even though Dani’s family was well off in Argentina before the recession, and she is attending a rather well to do high school in her new city, she is now wearing hand-me-down clothes, living in a subsidized apartment and using lunch vouchers in the cafeteria. All on top of learning a new language and taking classes in that language, that she does not completely comprehend.  Dani quickly learns that she is not going to make friends easily.

However, she finds herself confronted with a situation where she must choose whether to stand up for another “different” student (a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome) against the school bully or turn and walk away. She decides to take the bully on.  When the Asperger’s student turns out to be the brother of one of the popular girls, her life suddenly begins to turn around. While Dani discovers the benefits of popularity, she also learns that being popular does not give you immunity from tragedy. Her new friend’s father was a victim in the 9/11 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center.

Whether empathizing with Dani’s betrayal by her Argentinian boyfriend, her rapture at the first kiss from her new American boyfriend, or realizing that Dani and Jess share the tragedy of losing a loved one to a terrorist bomb, the reader is present in each moment. The writing style weaves so many emotions into the story – fear, sadness, joy, shame, trepidation, jealousy,  determination, indignation – it’s a rollercoaster ride reading each scene as if you are living it. Thankfully,  in the end, we are left with the feeling that through it all hope prevails.

So there you have it, my picks for the best of 2010. When the Sydney Taylor Awards Committee makes its announcement, rest assured that I will post their choices on my website for comparison. Please share your thoughts, however. I am eager to know what your picks are.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my local public library or sent by the publisher as review copies.
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.

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