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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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