Cassandra Rondinella (VOYA, April 2012 (Vol. 35, No. 1) )Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller lives in a world dictated by Moral Statutes and the Federal Bureau of Reformation (FBR). Since an internal attack on the United States, a set of laws and a new branch of the military has been created to establish order to the nation. With these laws comes the surrender of many constitutional rights. People are fined and taken away for violating the Moral Statutes and vanish without a trace. Ember’s mother is in constant violation of the Moral Statutes and is one day arrested for an Article Five violation; having a child out of wedlock. Ember’s ex-boyfriend, Chase Jennings, who was drafted into the FBR, is an arresting officer who also helps deport Ember to an out-of-state, girls’ reformatory and rehabilitation center–a boot camp that forces inmates to submit to regulations or be brutally punished. In an attempt to save and reunite Ember with her mother, Chase goes, helps Ember escape from the center, and both are now searching for a modern underground railroad used to keep violators safe. Chase and Ember experience dangerous situations at every step; from starved, disgruntled citizens to close calls with FBR officers, never knowing who to trust and who is a threat. The story that Simmons tells paints a picture of a world that could easily be our future. Her fluid writing creates an easy-to-read story that opens the eyes of readers to what the loss of civil liberties could entail. This book is a must have for all young adult collections. 2012, TorTeen, Ages 12 to 18, $17.99. Reviewer: Cassandra Rondinella (VOYA).
Dayenu! a Favorite Passover Song
In this appealing board book for toddlers, the traditional “Dayenu” song chanted at the Passover seder takes center stage. Bright illustrations depict scenes mentioned in the song, including many of the awesome miracles celebrated during the holiday. The Jews’ exodus from Egypt is shown with happy men, women, and children playing musical instruments and carrying their belongings; the sea splitting for the newly freed nation is charmingly simple, perfect for little learners. The “Dayenu” refrain, which recurs after each stanza, shows a rejoicing family enjoying different aspects of the traditional meal, including approaching the table set with wine and the seder plate; reading from the Hagaddah, the standardized prayer book for the meals; and eating typical Jewish fare of chicken soup and matzo balls. Small children will enjoy turning these pages and learning some basic details of the holiday. 2012, Scholastic, Ages Infant to 3, $7.99. Reviewer: Publishers Weekly.
Get Cooking! : a Jewish American Family Cookbook and Rockin’ Mama Doni Celebration
by Rachel Harkham and Doni Zasloff Thomas
Photography by Dan Engongoro and Andres Valenzuela.
Izzy the Whiz and Passover McClean
Illustrated by Carrie Hartman
Izzy is an inventor. To help his mother clean the house for Passover, Izzy invents a machine called Passover McClean which swallows rooms of soiled furniture and spits out the furniture completely clean for Passover. There is a glitch in the machine which Izzy repairs. Thanks to Izzy and Passover McClean, Izzy and his parents sit down for the seder in a sparkling and gleaming house. Carrie Hartman’s illustrations are charming: Izzy is a wide-eyed young boy who wears large circular glasses and a multicolored baseball cap. He looks like an inventor. Passover McClean is a whimsically drawn, gray metal machine with a very large mouth. The fanciful full-page illustrations add fun and whimsy to the rhyming text. Izzy the Whiz and Passover McClean is recommended for synagogue and school libraries. 2012, Kar-Ben, Ages 2 to 8, $7.95. Reviewer: Ilka Gordon (Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews).
Jodie’s Passover Adventure
by Anna Levine
Illustrated by Ksenia Topaz
This is the second book about Jodie. Her father is an archaeologist working at a dig in Israel. Fascinated by his work, she has learned a good deal about it. Now, Cousin Zach has come to visit. Jodie and her brothers Shimi and Eli are very excited about the visit, but her brothers are older and after a few days they seem to monopolize Zach. They have taken him everywhere they can think of. Where should they go next? “He’s my cousin, too,” Jodie says. And she has an idea–he could go to their father’s dig! But her brothers can think of nothing they would like less. It is messy. It is cold and wet. It is dark. “And there are mutant monsters” says Eli. But when Jodie explains that the dig is in the middle of Hezekiah’s tunnel, and anyway “archaeologists don’t believe in monsters, and I have my flashlight,” she makes it sound more fun than creepy. “Hezekiah was king of Jerusalem a long time ago” she says, “and he invited all the rulers in Judea to celebrate a Seder in Jerusalem.” The boys chime in and talk about the secret water tunnel that was designed to keep Jerusalem safe in case of an enemy attack. So the next day Jodie and Zach go into the tunnel. And, yes, it is smelly (“like dragon breath,” says Zach) and there are shadows (“mutant monsters!” says Zach) but Jodie uses her flashlight to make the monsters disappear! When they see two glowing eyes, Jodie knows it is her dog, Digger, and he leads them out of the tunnel. It has been great fun, and we have all learned a bit about archaeology and about Jerusalem. 2012, Kar-Ben Pub, Ages 4 to 9, $17.95. Reviewer: Judy Silverman (Children’s Literature).
The Last Song
It is the late 1400’s in Toledo, Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, is intent on ridding the city of all but devout Christians, his main target are those practicing the Jewish faith. Isobel, whose father is a respected physician in the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, thinks her family immune to the persecution afflicting the city. When she becomes betrothed to an arrogant and abusive man, she fears for her future. She befriends Yonah, the son of a Jewish silversmith, and learns the terrifying truth behind Torquemada’s agenda. When her parents reveal to her their secret Jewish roots, the family becomes a target and her father is arrested and tortured. Desperate to save her father and family, Isobel seeks help from Yonah and the underground Jewish community. This story is well told with a strong, believable heroine. The plot is gripping and builds toward the end as Isobel learns whom to trust and about her heritage. The main theme of solidarity against adversity is expressed primarily through Isobel and Yonah’s growing friendship. It is a different look at Jewish persecution because it is set during the Spanish Inquisition rather than the more familiar landscape of Hitler’s Third Reich. 2012, Tundra Books, Ages 11 up, $17.95. Reviewer: Mary Thompson (Children’s Literature).
The Longest Night : a Passover Story
Illustrations by Catia Chien
Evocative and beautiful, this rhyming rendition of a young Jewish slave girl’s experience during the ten plagues and exodus from Egypt flawlessly evokes the spirit of that Old Testament story. As one of thousands of children forced into harsh labor by the pharaoh, this unnamed girl shares her bleak outlook on life, until suddenly and inexplicably, strange epidemics begin afflicting the Egyptians while miraculously leaving the Jews unscathed. “Itching, biting, awful fleas/ Brought our masters to their knees./ Strange to see them scratch and fuss,/ Hurt and helpless just like us.” The poignant yet hopeful rhymes join with striking watercolor illustrations to produce a narrative that will captivate both children and adults. 2013, Schwartz & Wade, Ages 4–8, $17.99. Reviewer: Publishers Weekly
Room for the Baby
Illustrated by Jana Christy
“When somebody had something they didn’t need anymore, they gave it to my mom,” says the son of a master seamstress. “Everyone knew Mom would put it all to good use.” But when Mom announces at Passover that the narrator is going to be a big brother by Hanukkah–and that the baby’s room will be her former sewing room–the boy wonders if his mother has met her match: “Could Mom really use up all that stuff before the baby is born?” Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe readers will care all that much, especially since the narrator’s role in the resolution is minimal and the enviable sewing room is hardly a hoarder’s den–how much room does a baby need, anyway? Edwards (The Hanukkah Trike) and Christy (You Are the Best Medicine) offer a sweet-natured chronicle of a mother’s ingenuity and the collective joy shared by a tight-knit community at the prospect of a new arrival. But with Mom so unflappable and no displacement anxiety on the part of the boy, the narrative stakes are low and emotions remain even-keeled. Random House, Ages 3–6, $17.99. Reviewer: Publishers Weekly.
The Shabbat Puppy
by Leslie Kimmelman
llustrated by Jaime Zollars
New York : Marshall Cavendish Children, 2012.
Kimmelman, known for writing Judaic children’s books featuring escaping potato latkes (The Runaway Latkes) and highlighting the antics of a hardworking fowl (The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah), now focuses her pen on the importance of finding quiet time with family members. Grandpa cherishes the Shabbat walks with his grandson Noah. Together, they discover nature’s wonders which, to the older man, symbolize Shabbat peace–fluttering butterflies, swimming ducks, falling leaves, a glistening spider web, the sweet taste of wild raspberries, and the quiet of falling snowflakes. Every Saturday morning, Noah pleads with his grandfather to include his rambunctious puppy, Mazel, on their nature walks. Grandpa repeatedly declines, saying he will never find Shabbat shalom (peace) with the noisy, muddy-pawed, mess-maker along. However, as the seasons change and Mazel matures, Grandpa finally relents one spring morning. While in the park, Mazel’s keen nose locates a baby bird which had fallen onto the grass. After it is placed back into its nest, both Grandpa and Noah hug the four-footed hero that saved the little bird, for in doing so the puppy restored a sense of peace to this small corner of the park. Zollars’ crisply colored illustrations in graphite and digital paint bring to life the beauty of a butterfly’s wing, the hushed stillness of falling snow, and the love a grandfather feels for his grandson. The only flaw in the book is a small typographical error–a dropped “l” in the sentence, “Grandpa nudges the fledging onto his newspaper…” The correct word is “fledgling.” Even so, Kimmelman’s newest book will make a fine addition to any Judaic collection. 2012, Marshall Cavendish, Ages 5 to 9, $17.99. Reviewer: Allison Marks (Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews)
A Sweet Passover
by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by David Slonim
Want a Passover story that is fun, family oriented, kind and charming? You have it right here in this well-made picture book: quality paper, strong binding, mobile layout, sprightly illustrations, and portavoce characters who dote on and highlight protagonist Miriam, a little girl the age of targeted readers. Miriam enjoys the traditional Seder at her grandparents’ home; readers will recognize the scene and relate to her. Mostly Miriam adores matzo. Her craving leads to overeating it. She refuses to take another bite. By the eighth morning before Passover ends, she refuses her grandpa’s famous matzo brie. Her family tries to cajole and convince her. She and grandpa compromise in a warm ending. The well-developed plot will appeal across age levels; it delivers much basic holiday content for tots as well as moral insights for elementary readers. Everyone can side with Miriam while they absorb the lesson. Third-person narration and focused dialogue deliver Seder customs and the meaning of Passover. Each conversation is short–giving punch, holding young attentions, and providing information without boring. The grandparents’ Yiddish-sprinkled comments add ta’am (taste) and Jewish identity. Miriam is a delightful central character with attitude, an only child starring in a galaxy of adoring adults who instruct her and the readers. Illustrations capture her colorful personality and help carry the story. The end of the book boasts an historical note which includes a specific “later” date for the biblical Exodus (though all dates are in contention), a matzo brie recipe, and a glossary of foreign words. Its quality and size make the book a bit heavy to hold, but perfect for lap or tummy reading. This volume is holiday genre at its best. 2012, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Ages 5 to 9, $16.95. Reviewer: Ellen G. Cole (Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews)
What Am I? Passover
Anne Margaret Lewis
Illustrated by Tom Mills
Symbols of Passover, illustrated in bright colors and clearly defined shapes, are revealed when a flap on each right-hand page is lifted. On the opposite page, we have a short explanation of the symbol–not quite a riddle but short and catchy–that challenges children to identify the symbol before they lift the flap. Along with the name of the symbol, there’s a very basic explanation of its meaning. A pillow, for example, is said to “remind everyone that the enslaved Jewish people worked hard and could not rest on pillows,” a statement in contrast with a picture of a little boy taking a snooze amidst a pile of them. Preschoolers who have learned the Passover basics are the likely audience for this book, which quizzes them about what they may already know. Its only flaw is a hackneyed pictorial style that shows people with big round heads and little googly eyes, a far cry from the imaginative art that can make picture books one of the young child’s first artistic experiences. (My Look and See Holiday Book). 2012, Albert Whitman, Ages 2 to 5, $9.99.