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September 20, 2006

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[A caveat: I'm not Jewish]

My kids are loving "When Jessie Came Across the Sea" right now -- they ask to read it everyday. Jessie is a Jewish immigrant to NYC, but the story doesn't make Jessie's Judiasm some "special problem" for her, or something to be explained. When she goes to dinner with her future husband's family, for example, it's clearly Shabbos, but the author doesn't feel obligated to point that out. Jessie works in a dress shop and the customers are named Emily Levy and Rebecca Katz. Her Rabbi arranges for her to go to America. All nice normal things that don't require a lot of explanation.

I know it's a history book, not a contemporary book, but I think it does the sort of thing you're looking for.

Jody: Many thanks and welcome to the blog. That story sounds exactly like what I'm looking for, fast-forward a century or so. I'm wondering what other gems might be out there that are awaiting rediscovery -- or even retelling, for some enterprising author.

This is an young adult book, but you might like "A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life", by Dana Reinhardt. It's a portrait of an adopted girl who finds out that her birth mother was a Hasidic Jew, and then learns about the Jewish culture. Well worth checking out sometime.

I reviewed this book for a librarian's group last year. I wasn't crazy about it myself, but totally know what you mean about the lack of children's books that weave contemporary Jewish identity into the story without making it a big problematic deal.

These are a few I'd recommend:

Julie Baer's "I Only Like What I Like", for preschoolers, about a kid who has very definite likes & dislikes but learns that sometimes he might like other things as well. Two or three of the examples are specifically Jewish (i.e. "I only like red apples...but Tuesday was Jewish New Year and we cut up red and green and yellow apples and I ate them all!"). Great read-aloud, with stunning illustrations.

"Terrible! Terrible!" by Robin Bernstein (might be out of print, not sure) In a retelling of the old "It could always be worse" tale, Abigail's mom remarries and the two move in with her stepfather and 4 new stepsiblings. The house is too small, but they can't afford a bigger one, so Abigail consults the (female) Rabbi for help...much hilarity ensues, with pets, bicycles, and cousins thrown into the mix before everything's sorted out.

Also, many books by Patricia Polacco, particularly "Mrs. Katz and Tush," "Tikvah Means Hope" (o/p, alas) and "The Trees of the Dancing Goats."

Jen and Elswhere: Thanks very much! The more I can get a list like this together, the better. I can pass this around to other parents as well.

I wasn't totally crazy about "Candles" either, which is why I gave it only 2 buds, but it helps fill a niche at least.

You might enjoy two books for older children published a few years ago, not only because Judaism plays a natural role in the lives of the characters, but because the stories themselves are quite compelling.

Miriam Bat Ami's DEAR ELIJAH depicts a traditional, 11-year-old Jewish girl's world through the letters that she writes to Elijah after her father is hospitalized before Passover. (Bat Ami is the winner of the Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Prize for her novel, TWO SUNS IN THE SKY.)

Charlotte Herman's WHAT HAPPENED TO HEATHER HOPKOWITZ? is about a 14 year old girl's decision to become Orthodox (after spending a month as a guest in an Orthodox family's house), only to find that her non-observant family isn't thrilled with her decision.

Not picture books, admittedly, but stories that may find their way into the hands of curious older children one day.

Oooh, both sound great. I wondered if posting this review would open me up to harsh criticism or if it would lead to some suggestions and advice. I'm glad it was the latter -- I'm going to post on this subject again next week too.

Thanks, Bruce.

I'm coming late to the party . . . I'm putting all these suggestions on our library list, so thanks!

My son likes Kibitzers and Fools, by Simms Taback, and various versions of The Wise Men of Chelm.

I've heard good things about The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela, by Uri Shulevitz; Dreamer From the Village, the Story of Marc Chagall, by Michelle Markel; Zayda was a Cowboy, by June Levitt Nislick; Lemuel the Fool, by Myron Uhlberg; and Sholom's Treasure: How Sholom Aleichem Became a Writer, by Erica Silverman.

For a teenager, I enjoyed Confessions of a Closet Catholic, by Sarah Darer Littman, in which the main character decides to give up being Jewish for Lent.

Thanks, Genevieve. If you click on the "Jewish" category on the right, you'll find reviews of both "Benjamin of Tudela" and "Sholom's Treasure."

I gave both books very high ratings.

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Anne Boles Levy

Literary Weed Whackers

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