Meet Rebecca, An American Girl by Jacqueline Dembar Greene and illustrated by Robert Hunt, with vignettes by Susan McAliley.
Today’s Guest Reviewers are playwright/screenwriter Jennifer Maisel, whose work includes the critically acclaimed plays The Last Seder and There or Here (www.dogear.org) and the hit web series Faux Baby, and her almost 7 year old daughter, Julia, a first grader who is a big fan of American Girls, and just may be a singer-songwriter when she grows up.
As a child I was a big fan of Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series, about a Jewish family with five daughters living on the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the century; recently Julia dug up one of my dog-eared copies of the book and we started in, pleased the writing held up for a new generation for readers. It seemed to be a nice synchronicity when the news came of American Girl’s newest history doll launching May 31 – 9 year old Rebecca Rubin, a Jewish girl living on the Lower East side with her four siblings in 1914 – and Meet Rebecca landed on our doorstep. And indeed there are marked similarities between the two series, both giving vivid pictures of the life of Jewish immigrant girls, yet not getting too much into the gritty details of the period.
As in other American Girl books, our main character faces a personal moral dilemma that is steeped in the historical milieu of the time. Rebecca’s family has close relatives that need to leave Russia but do not have the money to do so, and Rebecca’s family cannot easily afford to bring them over. Rebecca, however, is most concerned with being considered too young to light the Sabbath candles and searches for a way to stand out amongst her four siblings – something children of any generation can relate to. Rebecca hits on an ingenious way to earn money to buy her own candlesticks, but realizes, as time goes on, that perhaps the objects she longs for will not satisfy her as much as helping others could.
It’s a sweet story and Dembar Greene portrays the inner workings of a nine year old’s mind in a relatable way that kept my daughter eager for the next chapter. Julia thinks the person who thought this character up is our own “Clever Karina” (you’ll have to read the book to find out.) There are a lot of religious and cultural mores that Dembar Greene, for the most part, manages to deftly cover while keeping Rebecca’s journey in the forefront. I wished, however, that she had addressed the generational clash of concerns about the father in the family working on the Sabbath despite the grandparents’ disapproval more extensively – it was covered better in the Looking Back, America in 1914 chapter after Rebecca’s story was completed. But any book that opens my daughter’s eyes to trials her great grandparents went through when they came to this country and gets her slacker parents to celebrate Shabbat (at her insistence) has something going for it.
And for those Mommy fans of All-of-a-Kind Family – there is a doll just for us.
NOTE: This Sat., June 6 at 4:30 p.m. is American Girl at the Egyptian Theater. Call 877-247-5223 for more info.