Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein

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DEAR SANTA,
LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN
Written by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer
Illustrated by Christine Davenier
(Doubleday Books for Young Readers: $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

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(NOTE: Sing to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It) … If you’re Jewish and love Christmas raise your hand!
My hand goes up as does the titular Rachel Rosenstein’s in the delightful Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein. And while the title certainly gives away the premise, the execution of this story is so entertaining it’s certain to keep readers turning the pages. In fact, this reader felt as though the story was written with her daughter in mind. Growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, my daughter yearned for all things Christmas, especially when the start of Hanukkah fell close to Christmas.

In this charming picture book with Davenier’s cheerful and atmospheric watercolor artwork which fans of Julie Andrews’s The Very Fairy Princess series may recognize, it’s easy to see why all Rachel wants for Hanukkah is Christmas. Shops are full of enticingly decorated windows, glowing stars light up the streets, pine trees and wreaths are everywhere with no sign of a Menorah, especially on Rachel’s street. “The Rosensteins didn’t celebrate Christmas because they were Jewish. Being Jewish was fun most of the time.” Rachel knew there were plenty of wonderful holidays and reasons to celebrate in Judaism, yet still yearned to share the accoutrements of the Christmas season. She wanted to string lights or have a tree, but her family wouldn’t give in to her requests.

The story’s humor kicks in full force when Rachel secretly writes a letter to Santa, then meets him in person and asks if he’s coming to her house. This is the part I can see parents having fun with when they read Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein aloud. Like my daughter used to do, Rachel prepared the house with high hopes for Santa’s arrival, but alas he never came. Rather than leave young readers disappointed about Saint Nick’s no show, Peet and Troyer end this tale on a positive note, with the Jewish tradition of going out for a Chinese meal. There, to Rachel’s surprise, she sees “some familiar faces: Lucy Deng from her class, and Mike Rashid and Amina Singh.” It turns out that Rachel’s not the only one who doesn’t celebrate Christmas! I believe children, both Jewish and non-Jewish, will enjoy this picture book, whether or not they share Rachel’s sentiment because it gently and humorously depicts a different perspective of Christmas than what is typically in books. And I can raise my hand to that!

    • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Talia and the Very Yum Kippur by Linda Elovitz Marshall

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TALIA AND THE VERY YUM KIPPUR
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli
(Kar-Ben Publishing; Hardcover, $17.99; Paperback, $7.99, Ages 3-8)

 

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When I was a little girl, probably the same age as the main character in Talia and the Very Yum Kippur, I always thought that Yom Kippur was actually called “Yum” Kippur, at least that’s how everyone in my family pronounced this most holy of Jewish holidays. So, I couldn’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to write a “pun-driven story of misheard words and malapropisms” like this “Yum” Kippur themed story, but I’m glad that at last someone has!

Author Linda Elovitz Marshall who, according to this picture book’s jacket flap, “raised her four children, a small flock of sheep, … on a farm in a historic farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York,” has chosen a similar setting for this charming tale. Only this farm’s inhabitants are Talia’s grandparents. Talia happily helps her grandmother prepare the food for the traditional Break Fast, a meal beginning at sundown immediately following a 24 hour fast of atonement by those over age 13.

The whole time Talia’s helping her grandmother, she’s thinking that the food-in-the-works is for breakfast, the morning meal, having misunderstand the correct name of the holiday. Talia’s confusion begins early on in the story and deliciously builds which will keep children turning the pages to see how everything works out. Who can blame a little girl for eagerly awaiting what she hopes will be the “Yum” Kippur breakfast of scrumptious kugel along with all the other tasty dishes?

The best part about Talia and the Very Yum Kippur is that, in addition to the humor of the play on words, Marshall introduces young readers to the meaning of this important holiday “… when Jews fast and pray and think about how to be better people.” While we fast, we take the time to think about our transgressions and pray for forgiveness. After learning this from her grandmother, Talia digs deep and apologizes for a lamp she had broken but had blamed on her doll. Grandma, too, asks for forgiveness for having yelled at her granddaughter upon seeing the broken lamp.

Assirelli serves up a selection of gorgeous folkish-looking spreads that pair beautifully with Marshall’s prose. Since Yom Kippur is in the fall, the artist has chosen autumn hues to pepper the pages making this special season come alive.

“Thanks to Talia and her grandmother, they all enjoyed a very sweet YUM Kippur.” And speaking of sweet, don’t miss the yummy recipe for Talia’s YUM Kippur Kugel included in the back matter!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 


IS IT PASSOVER YET? Written by Chris Barash

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Is It Passover Yet?
Written by Chris Barash
Illustrated by Alessandra Psacharopulo
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

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For me, living in Southern California, the signs that Passover is on its way are not necessarily related to the weather. Instead I begin spotting boxes of matzo and jars of gefilte fish popping up on the shelves of my local supermarket. Close local friends call with plans for the seder, and we decide who will cook what, and how much we need to prepare. Family and friends, both in the U.S. and abroad, begin posting Facebook status updates about all the cleaning they’re doing prior to the holiday. We have to get rid of all traces of leavened products in our homes. It won’t be long now until we’re sharing the tradition that Jewish families have done for centuries.

In Is It Passover Yet?, a joyful picture book celebration of the lead up to the first night’s seder, a brother and sister notice the changes that spring heralds in such as flowers blooming and grass growing. “Passover is on its way.” This phrase, repeated on every other spread, builds the anticipation for both the story’s reader and the siblings eagerly awaiting the arrival of Passover.

When all of the windows and floors start to shine.
And our whole house smells clean and looks extra fine …
Passover is on its way.

We see Dad’s busy setting the table with his daughter on the night of the first seder, while Mom’s got kugel cooking. Her son is helping her get the charoset ready. Soon the relatives show up “And everyone’s ready for stories and singing …” The songs are one of my favorite parts of our seders and it’s obvious they are in this tale, too. I love how Barash not only got the rhyming so right, but included a Nana in the book as well. I recall dozens of happy seders with my Nana, aunts, uncles and cousins, so it’s extra special when “Grandma” or “Gran” are replaced by Nana!

Psacharopulo’s illustrations light up every page with glowing colors and a cheerfulness that’s infectious. It’s lovely how she’s added in pets to the spreads because the holiday’s all about family and our pets are so much a part of the fabric of everyday life. When in the end “Passover is here!” is exclaimed, we get a last glimpse of the seder from outside an open window. Inside the the family is dining together on this cherished celebration of freedom while outdoors the miracles of nature abound.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a look at a few more marvelous illustrations.


The Night Before Hanukkah by Natasha Wing Blog Tour & Giveaway

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The Night Before Hanukkah
written by Natasha Wing
with illustrations by Amy Wummer
Blog Tour & Giveaway (signed copy!)
(Grosset & Dunlap, $3.99, Ages 3-5)

Night-before-hanukkah-cvr.jpg“This book was challenging to write since the Festival of Lights lasts eight days,” said Wing. “But with input from my high school friends, I showed a family celebrating Hanukkah in both modern and traditional ways.”

 

GRWR Review:
It’s not easy to take Clement Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and make it work for the Festival of Lights, but Wing does it and I commend her. Aside from Adam Sandler, not many can find the appropriate words to rhyme, but I knew once I read the opening line, that Wing had found a way in this jovial Jewish holiday read-aloud:

‘Twas the night before the
eight days of Hanukkah.
Families were prepping from
New York to Santa Monica.

Wing takes readers into the home of a 21st century family celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah. This loving family of four shows that Hanukkah is not just about getting gifts. It’s about lighting the candles on the Hanukkiah (a special Hanukkah menorah) each night and reflecting, spending quality time together, playing games, sharing, helping others, and remembering the story of the first Hanukkah. In fact not a Hanukkah passes without Jews around the world recounting the tale of the brave Maccabees and the crushing defeat of their adversaries when they retook their holy temple. Wummer’s joyful  watercolors depict a crowd of Jews from that era celebrating because one night’s oil for the menorah actually lasted eight nights!:

Before their wondering eyes, a miracle took place:
the glory of Hanukkah for all Jews to embrace.

Of course it wouldn’t be Hanukkah without latkes and jelly donuts (symbolic foods cooked in oil ) and Wing makes sure to include these. She’s even introduced the dreidel, the spinning top game of chance played with chocolate coins (aka Hanukkah gelt). I’m so happy to be able to share The Night Before Hanukkah with you and am sure you’ll want a copy to enjoy with your children. Thanks to Natasha Wing for signing a copy of her book to give away to one reader. Please scroll down to enter the giveaway.

About The Night Before Series:
Based on the popular story, The Night Before Christmas, Wing’s stories are about families celebrating holidays and milestones in kids’ lives such as the first day of school and losing a tooth. Her titles include The Night Before Easter, the original book in the series, which was published in 1999, and The Night Before Kindergarten, the highest-selling title, which has regularly been on bestseller lists since its publication in 2001. The Night Before Hanukkah released on October 2, 2014, and there are three more titles on the way including The Night Before The Fourth of July out this spring.

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Author Natasha Wing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, ©2014.

About Bestselling Author Natasha Wing:
Natasha Wing graduated from Arizona State University in 1982 with a B.S. in Advertising. Wing lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband, Dan and their cat, Purrsia. They moved to Colorado for the outdoor life and Wing was “happy to find a thriving writing community and a library that is open seven days a week with excellent programs for writers.” She has been publishing for 22 years and is a frequent presenter at conferences and schools and loves to Skype with classrooms.

To find out more about Natasha Wing’s books, please check out her wonderful website: www.natashawing.com.

Read Ronna’s review of  The Night Before My Birthday.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty

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“Celebrate the holidays with faith, family, friends … and food!”

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Charlesbridge, $17.95, Ages 4-8).

⭐︎Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Rabbi-Benjamins-Buttons-cvr.jpgWhat’s the best part about Jewish holidays? The time spent with family welcoming in the Jewish New Year (it’s 5775 now), the world’s birthday? Maybe it’s rejoicing during the harvest festival, Sukkot, that arrives five days after Yom Kippur. That’s when we spend time in the sukkot, or huts, that harken back to when the Israelites built temporary homes of palms and branches as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Whatever the holiday, another essential element is the food, the delicious, traditional food we eat whenever we celebrate.

A new picture book, Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons, humorously exemplifies how much food is intertwined with every Jewish holiday, and I know how true this is because it’s when I pack on the pounds every year!

Beloved by his happy congregation, Rabbi Benjamin is bestowed with a handmade vest featuring four shiny buttons at the New Year’s service. “How the rabbi smiled when he put on that beautiful vest! It fit just right.” But alas, with a year’s worth of holidays including Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Chanukah and Passover and a year’s worth of dining on delicious meals, the rabbi’s belly expands. So what do you think happens next? Yes, all the buttons eventually pop off, often landing in a dish of fabulous food.

Reinhardt’s watercolor illustrations are as rich as the food Rabbi Benjamin is served at every holiday.  They’re cheerful, radiant, expressive and perfectly reflect the rabbi’s favorite saying, “A happy congregation is the sunshine of my heart.”

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Interior spread from Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014.

To solve his dilemma, Rabbi Benjamin performs various good deeds, or mitzvot, within his community from planting a garden to climbing into a congregant’s attic to hide some Chanukah gifts. Over the course of the following year, the rabbi’s positive actions help his belly dwindle down in size. But without buttons, how can he fasten his vest and wear it for the approaching New Year’s service?

After reading this picture book, children will appreciate how one good deed begets another, often when least expected. Also, rather than pull out the elastic waist pants, perhaps more apples and less strudel couldn’t hurt!

Make sure you check out the end pages for a glossary of words used in the story. I love that a mouth watering selection of recipes for such traditional dishes as honey cake, latkes, matzoh ball soup and strudel are also included. There’s also an Educator’s Guide available for downloading by clicking here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel