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Kids Picture Book Review – Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous

JUDAH TOURO DIDN’T WANT TO BE FAMOUS

Written by Audrey Ades

Illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger

(Kar-Ben Publishing; $17.99 HC,$7.99 PB, Ages 5-9)

 

Judah Touro Cover

 

In 1801, Judah Touro dreamed of finding success in New Orleans as he set sail from Boston Harbor. His story is vividly recounted in Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous, written by debut author Audrey Ades and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger.

After spending five miserable months at sea, Judah arrives in New Orleans. “His father and grandfather had also sailed the seas. They left their homes to practice Judaism in peace and freedom. God had taken care of them. Judah knew God had a plan for him, too.”

Mildenberger’s illustrations, using soft brown and blue colors, depict the busy harbor in Touro’s new hometown. “A busy harbor meant trade. And trade was a business Judah knew well.” Ades takes us through Judah’s transforming life as he welcomes new friends into his shop at Number 27 Chartres Street. Mildenberger draws crowds of people waiting in line as the industrious shop owner’s business booms. He becomes the most successful merchant in town unlike his father and grandfather who had been great Rabbis. “Had God planned for him to be a businessman?”

The United States entered the War of 1812 eleven years after Judah had relocated to New Orleans. When General Andrew Jackson urgently requested volunteers, Judah joined up, doing one of “the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield, bringing ammunition to soldiers.” During the war Judah was injured and his dearest friend, Rezin Shepherd, found him and nurtured him back to health. “While he lay in bed, he had plenty of time to think about why God had spared his life.”

 

Judah Touro DWTBF intspread
Interior spread from Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous written by Audrey Ades and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger, Kar-Ben Publishing ©2020.

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Eagerly turning the page, we see Mildenberger’s moving full color illustrations of sad faces and homeless people as Judah walks through town. “His gut ached for the children who begged for food when they should have been in school. And he sobbed for families torn apart by diseases like yellow fever and cholera.” The poverty and suffering profoundly impacts Judah, supported by his cane, walking past the hospital. He knows he can afford to help these people and so he does. Judah begins making huge donations, but he “requested only one thing in return. He asked that his donations be kept secret. Judah Touro didn’t want to be famous.”

This engaging, educational story takes us through Judah’s purchase of the city’s first Jewish synagogue. We then see how “everyday, African men, women and children were legally sold as slaves so quietly, Judah began to pay off masters.” Ades explains to readers how, when Judah died in 1854, he left money for myriad charities and causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. “He made sure that fire departments, public parks, libraries and schools could remain open and running.” In his lifetime, “Judah gave away more money than any other American of his time. But he was not famous. And that’s the way he wanted it.”

In the Author’s Note, Ades explains how Touro did not leave a diary. However his secretive, selfless and generous actions make clear that during his formative years he had learned a great Jewish value, helping those in need. This fascinating historical fictionalized story is a great lesson on kindness and humility for lower grade students. They’ll learn that success is more than having money; it is about what you do with that money, and that philanthropic deeds, large and small can be done without requiring recognition. In our world of social media and instant gratification, it was inspirational to read about a real life hero who did great deeds, but chose to avoid fame.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Kids Books for Passover 2020 – A Roundup

PASSOVER PICTURE BOOKS

Passover will be different this year because we’re self-isolating. And since it’s advisable to not meet up with family and friends, some of us may participate in Seders via video teleconferencing. We may also have to choose new menu variations based on what food is available. One thing that won’t change is the Passover story in our Haggadahs and the variety of wonderful books we can share with our children. Here are some books worth reading during this eagerly awaited eight day holiday.

 

Welcoming Elijah
WELCOMING ELIJAH:

A PASSOVER TALE WITH A TAIL
Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Susan Gal
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

I loved the new perspective Newman has captured with her gently flowing, lyrical language in Welcoming Elijah. It’s been years since I thought about all the times I went to my Aunt’s front door and opened it for Elijah when I was a child. So reading about the main character’s experience filled me with joy. As readers feel the young boy’s anticipation about every aspect of the evening’s Seder inside, they’ll also be introduced to a stray cat outside mimicking many of the steps that are taking place at the dining room table.

Inside, the boy dipped
parsley into salt water.

Outside, the kitten chewed
a wet blade of grass.

Inside, the boy broke
the middle matzo in half.

Outside, the kitten split
a twig in two.

When at last the youngster opens the front door for the Prophet Elijah, and looks outside, it’s not the prophet who makes an appearance at the Seder, but a friendly kitty looking for a home. Gal’s warm palette adds to the uplifting ambiance in all her illustrations. This sweet Passover tale should resonate with many children who look forward to celebrating Passover and all its beloved kid-centric rituals of not only asking the four questions, and finding the afikoman, but to welcoming Elijah into their homes year after year. Back matter about the holiday is also included.

 

Asteroid Goldberg cover

ASTEROID GOLDBERG:
PASSOVER IN OUTER SPACE

Written by Brianna Caplan Sayres
Illustrated by Merrill Rainey
(Intergalactic Afikoman; $18.95, Ages 4-8)

You may think you’ve heard of every kind of Seder possible, but I have a feeling you’ve never heard of a Seder in outer space. And Asteroid Goldberg is no ordinary story so if you have children who are into all things cosmic, Sayres’s 40-page holiday picture book will deliver just the right blast of humor and read aloud rhyme.

As space-whiz Asteroid steers the spaceship home from Pluto in time for Seder, she and her family are notified they’ll “have to wait to land.” The timing couldn’t be worse and Passover prep will now require an added dimension. Looks like this family’s going to have to search for Pesach supplies in the Milky Way!

She aimed their ship toward Jupiter.
So many yummy moons!

“Matzoh balls!” said Asteroid.
“All we need are spoons!”

The clever way our plucky heroine finds all the food on offer in outer space is just one of the things children will enjoy when reading this far out story. The idea of dining in an anti-gravity setting is such fun as is an intergalactic afikoman hunt. Rainey’s jewel-toned illustrations are cheerful and humorous, complementing this truly creative Passover tale. Once given the all clear to land from Houston, the Goldbergs deliver readers a surprise ending for those of us who know the traditional closing of the Seder as being “Next year in Jerusalem!”

 

I Love Matzah bbcoverI LOVE MATZAH
Written by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
Illustrated by Angelika Scudamore
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

I Love Matzah is an adorable board book ode to the delights of the unleavened bread we eat during Passover. Its simple rhyme pattern is easy for little ones to repeat and to anticipate the rhyming word from the illustrations. There are so many different ways and times of day to enjoy matzah, whether you have it after a morning stroll or with yogurt in a Passover bowl. But what happened to matzah brei, my fave? Scudamore’s bright artwork adds to the upbeat feeling conveyed on all 12 pages of this charming read. Parents can point out the boy’s I Matzah t-shirt and help their kids try reading the rhyming words printed in red, an educational component that works quite well.

 

Alligator Seder book coverALLIGATOR SEDER
Written by Jessica Hickman
Illustrated by Ellisambura
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

Alligator Seder is such a funny spin on the Seder stories we usually see. This 12-page full color board book is guaranteed to get laughs with its gorgeously illustrated gator family getting ready for Passover. There are some truly funny lines such as:

They look for bits of chametz.
They’re good investigators.
They’re really just like you and me
except they’re ALLIGATORS!

Mommy gator makes gefilte fish. Gator guests join the celebration. Their mouthful of teeth make for some serious matzah crunching sounds. However for me, the ending is what’s perfect. In fact, it was the inspiration for the name of my Zoom Passover Seder this year which is called Seder, See Ya Later!

Everyone is going home.
They all say, “See you later!”

Another year, another splendid
ALLIGATOR SEDER!

If you want to bring smiles to any Seder, I recommend getting a copy of Alligator Seder to share and get swamped in the best possible way!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Kids Picture Book Review – Sweet Tamales for Purim

SWEET TAMALES FOR PURIM

Written by Barbara Bietz

Illustrated by John Kanzler

(August House Little Folk; $8.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Sweet Tamales book cover

 

 

Purim is just around the corner! To celebrate this joyful Jewish festival in the 19th century, people of various backgrounds traveled by horse and buggy, and some by train, in Sweet Tamales for Purim, written by the award-winning team of writer Barbara Bietz and illustrator John Kanzler. This delightful and diverse picture book tells the story of a community coming together to combine cultural and religious traditions in a small southwestern town. 

Kanzler’s illustrations of the bright blue sky and drawings of characters dressed in clothes from the 1800s introduce the reader to a time long ago reminding us that family traditions remain. The excitement on our main character Rebecca’s face is shown as she places Purim Party posters on the town walls, with her best friend Luis and her goat Kitzel, as old men from the town look on.

 

Sweet Tamales spread 1[2]
Interior spread from Sweet Tamales for Purim written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, August House ©2020.
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“We wear costumes on Purim,” Rebecca explains to Luis as her mother sews a crown of flowers for her head. Luis is not familiar with Purim “since his family celebrates different holidays from mine.” Bietz changes settings taking the reader through the story of the Evil Haman who plotted to harm the Jews in the city of Shushan. Through chalkboard drawings, Rebecca shows Luis Queen Esther’s Uncle Mordecai and Haman’s plot. Luis learns how the Jewish people were saved.

“When someone says Haman’s name during Purim, there’s lots of booing and shouting,” Rebecca explains to Luis. “Rebecca, can I bring my maracas?” Luis asked. “Maracas are perfect for Purim. Together, we’ll make lots of noise.”

After removing the delicious smelling sweet treat of hamantaschen from the oven, Luis and Rebecca go outside to play marbles. The story takes an unexpected turn when both Kitzel the goat and the hamantaschen go missing! (If you have a pet you probably figured this part out by now.) Purim was ruined, but Rebecca was determined to fix it. The reader anxiously turns the page to a new family tradition as Luis’s mama introduces us to her family’s tradition of Sweet Tamales. “Sweet Tamales for Purim!”

“When the husks were soft, Luis showed me how to spread the mixture on the corn husks and fill them with raisins and more sugar and cinnamon. His mama steamed the tamales in a giant pot.”

 

 

Sweet Tamales Spread 20-21
Interior spread from Sweet Tamales for Purim written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, August House ©2020.

 

Bietz’s descriptive words and Kanzler’s real-life drawings welcome the reader into a time long ago. Adults and children alike see what happens when we all come together through kindness in both the past and the present. This beautifully told story about two children from different backgrounds is a great read about inclusion and reminds us how beautiful a town can be when people come together as one. Eating both hamantaschen and sweet tamales on Purim is a great idea! The Author’s Note explains the story of the late pioneers who settled in the Southwest where life was lonely and isolated. Bietz explains how her story was inspired by a true event that occurred in 1886 when the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society of Tucson, Arizona, planned a Purim Ball for the entire community. I learned something I did not know about Purim in the 1800s. I know this will be a great read for both Jewish and non-Jewish children.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Kids Board Book Review – Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah

BARNYARD BUBBE’S HANUKKAH

Written by Joni Klein-Higger + Barbara Sharf

Illustrated by Monica Gutierrez

(Kar-Ben Publishing; $5.99, Ages 1-4)

 

 

Little ones will love the mystery, rhyme and repetition in Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah, an entertaining read-aloud board book written by Joni Klein-Higger and Barbara Sharf with colorful and sweet illustrations by Monica Gutierrez.

In this adorable story, seven different farm animals show up on seven consequent nights knocking, tapping, rapping, swishing, thumping, rat tat tatting and scratching on Bubbe’s front door. Each one leaves a different present such as oil, onions, and eggs. Bubbe’s porch is a busy place during Hanukkah! Young readers get a glimpse of assorted hooves, paws and even a tail in the artwork as well as an accompanying animal sound printed in larger font such as neigh, bwak, or woof to clue them into the gift giver’s identity. Having children guess what all those ingredients are for and who is dropping them off only adds to the enjoyment of this engaging holiday book.

 

Barnyard Bubbes Hanukkah intart
Interior artwork from Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah written by Joni Klein-Higger and Barbara Sharf and illustrated by Monica Gutierrez, Kar-Ben ©2019.

 

Klein-Higger and Sharf have given a fun Festival of Lights spin to the popular “Twelve Days of Christmas” song: On the first night of Hanukkah, what did Barnyard Bubbe see? One sack of meal. “Oh, my. Who has left this for me?” After seven nights of anonymous donations, Bubbe knows just what to do on the eighth night—make latkes for the bevy of adorable barnyard animals!

MEET THE AUTHORS

Meet Joni and Barbara on Sunday, December 8 at 10:30a.m. at Pasadena’s Southern California Children’s Museum.
This co-hosted PJ Library event is part of the Jewish Book Festival. Klein-Higger and Sharf deliver a “special Hanukkah treat” as they “bring their story to life and perform original songs sure to please the 5 and under set.” Cost is $5 per child at the door.

 

 

 

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Kids Book Review – Mitzvah Pizza by Sarah Lynn Scheerger

 

MITZVAH PIZZA

Written by Sarah Lynn Scheerger

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

(Kar-Ben Publishing; Hardcover $17.99,
Paperback $7.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Mitzvah Pizza Book Cover

 

In the new picture book, Mitzvah Pizza, written by Sarah Lynn Scheerger and illustrated by Deborah Melmon. Daddy Day is the best day of the week for Missy! Daddy brings the money and she brings the fun during their special time together. But today Missy plans to use her savings from Hanukkah and extra chores so she can be the one doing the buying.

The reader is introduced to the multi-colored city streets of Philly as the story unfolds. Dark haired Missy with her sweet round face and Daddy with his zipper jacket and baggy pants hold hands surrounded by men, women, babies and dogs and a sign reading The Pizza Corner above a red bricked corner eatery. In the past, Missy spent her money on a beaded necklace that broke and cinnamon candies that burned her tongue. Those mishaps made deciding what to buy on this outing hard. But there’s time to figure that out because Missy and her dad are taking a break to eat. Pizza!

The story takes a different direction when another girl and her daddy happen to be in front of the line. The two dads simultaneously ask, “What would you like?” Missy shouts out cheese and the other girl yells mushroom then they smile at each other, big and wide, with images of cheese and mushroom pizzas yummingly displayed in thought bubbles.

 

 

Mitzvah Pizza int spread
Interior spread from Mitzvah Pizza written by Sarah Lynn Scheerger and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, Kar-Ben Publishing ©2019.

 

When Missy’s new friend Jane pays with two stickies removed from The Pizza Corner’s wall, Missy begins to question why sticky notes are being exchanged for pizza. As the reader turns the page, they’ll see handwritten blue, yellow, purple, red and pink sticky notes with messages reading “Peace”, “Enjoy”, “Hope this Helps”, and “Pizza on me!”

When Daddy and Missy reach the front of the line, the man behind the counter asks Daddy if he’d like to make a donation to the Piece O’Pizza Fund. Daddy replies “Sure, it’s a mitzvah.” Mitzvah means good deed in Hebrew and Jewish children are raised knowing that giving back to those in need is the biggest mitzvah of them all. In fact another Hebrew work, tzedakah, means “giving to others while not making them feel as if they’ve been helped.” What wonderful values to instill in children!

After eating the pizza, Missy and Jane continue the fun by going to the park, not wanting to say good-bye, and Missy tells Jane about her upcoming birthday party inviting her to come. It’s when Missy and Daddy walk away from the park, that Missy realizes buying one sticky was nice but she has a mitzvah in mind to spend her money and they return to The Pizza Corner.

In this thought provoking story about giving back, young children will discover that they can make a difference with a mitzvah towards hungry people or just by being a good friend. The book’s back matter introduces us to Scheerger’s inspiration for the book, Mason Wartman, owner of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia. A customer had asked him if he could buy a slice of pizza for someone who couldn’t afford it. This sparked the generous sticky note idea and now Wartman serves free pizza to thirty to forty hungry people every day! He even hired some of them to work in his shop! As Missy showed me, the next time I find myself in Philly, I plan on heading over to Rosa’s Fresh Pizza to place a sticky on the wall as my mitzvah for the day!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Click here to read another review by Ronda.

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Kids Book: On Yom HaShoah – Hand in Hand by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

HAND IN HAND
 by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum
Illustrated by Maya Shleifer
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 7 and up)

 

Maya Shleifer cvr art _ Hand in Hand by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum

 

With recent surveys showing that fewer and fewer adults and children know about the Holocaust, the need to continue sharing this information with new generations by reading books such as Hand in Hand is vital. The annual commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah, which this year begins the evening of May 1 and ends the evening of May 2, is a good time to honestly but sensitively approach the subject both at home and in school for children ages seven and up.

Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s new picture book, Hand in Hand with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, provides the ideal vehicle to start the conversation about what the Holocaust was and how it impacted families. In this case the emphasis is on the tragedy of family separation, a topic with significance even today. Written from the perspective of anthropomorphic rabbits, the story introduces readers to Ruthi, her little brother Leib and their mother. According to the author notes, this family (apart from being bunnies) represents a fictional combination of countless real people whose moving tales of courage and strength inspired Rosenbaum. It’s not clear where the characters live but some of the language, like when Mama escapes late one night, leaving her children, and says—”Don’t worry, my doves. Sometimes walls rise up. Still, there is always a way … forward.”—I get the impression the city is Warsaw. Although it could really be any number of European cities where Jews lived during WWII.

 

int art from Hand in Hand They Hovered Over Our Heads
Interior spread from Hand in Hand written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, Apples and Honey Press ©2019.

 

Rosenbaum effectively employs similes like the one in the illustration above—”They hovered over our heads like tidy rows of storm clouds – threatening to burst.”—to gently establish the ominous presence of Nazi Storm Troopers, perhaps the ones Mama was running away from early on in the story when she departs in haste. Maybe the soldiers had already taken her husband.

 

Hand in Hand siblings separated interior illustration
Interior spread from Hand in Hand written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, Apples and Honey Press ©2019.

 

The strong bond between brother and sister is evident on every page. Ruthi is seven and Leib is four when Mama goes away and she must now look out for him in their mother’s absence. A neighbor brings the children to an orphanage where they remain among hundreds, abandoned or left parent-less. The expression on Leib’s face as depicted in Shleifer’s art, when he is soon adopted, is both powerful and bittersweet. Pulled apart, like the torn photo of the siblings, from the loving hands of her brother, Ruthi refuses to say good-bye. Leib will be saved because of his Aryan “blonde curls and sapphire eyes.” At just seven she must find a way to survive, in the woods, underground, anywhere until the war ends.  Then “The nightmare … came to a halt.

 

Hand in Hand int illustration of Ruthi on boat to new country
Interior spread from Hand in Hand written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, Apples and Honey Press ©2019.

 

In the optimistic illustration of the boat above, it seems as though Ruthi has been sent to Palestine where she lives on a kibbutz and makes a new life for herself in Israel. Years pass. She marries, has children but always, always thinks about finding Leib. Her children and grandchildren urge her to add her name to an enormous list of people seeking family members. But is there any chance to be reunited with a brother who could be living anywhere or perhaps even no longer alive?

 

Searching for her lost sibling int illustration from Hand in Hand
Interior spread from Hand in Hand written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, Apples and Honey Press ©2019.

 

Here’s when we can rejoice. Ruthi’s efforts to locate Leib succeed. It’s heartwarming to see the siblings together once more after decades apart. Now an old man, though still younger than Ruthi, Leib greets her with tenderness, “Shalom, my big sister, Ruthi!” For her part, Ruthi notes “His blue eyes had lost their sapphire luster, but through my tears my heart knew Leib’s strawberry smile.” This framing of a similar line Rosenbaum used in the book’s opening brings the story full round.

I have been moved and impressed with every re-read of Hand in Hand at how well Rosenbaum’s symbolism and subtlety say so much. There’s no need to go into detail about the brutality and harshness of the Holocaust. That’s for parents and teachers to decide before having this important discussion with kids. Each child, especially the younger ones, has a different threshold for how much information about the Holocaust they can handle. What works so well is that Rosenbaum has chosen to focus on a relationship as a way into the subject of war and/or genocide and the aftermath. Shleifer’s illustrations convey the the sorrowful times Ruthi has experienced without Leib but does so delicately and only twice uses very dark tones when Ruthi is first separated from her brother. This touching book is one of boundless love, faith in family and faith for the future. I hope this picture book will resonate with you as much as it did with me.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Find other Holocaust Remembrance Day reads here.

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