Monday, February 25, 2008

Nonfiction Mondays: Jewish Holidays All Year Round

Jewish Holidays All Year Round by Ilene Cooper. Illustrated by Elivia Savadier. Harry N. Abrams, 2002 (0-8109-0550-7) $18.95

I started out liking this book for its fresh and lively cover illustration of a multicultural Passover gathering, and I continued liking it for its fresh and lively text. The stories of the Jewish holidays have been retold so many times, it's a pleasure to hear them in a distinctive voice, as well as to see portrayals of less conventional Jewish families. In addition to the bright pen & ink and watercolor illustrations, the book also contains photographs of artwork from the Jewish Museum in New York City, offering many different expressions of Jewish life and art: four different menorahs, for example, range from a delicately wrought metal lamp from North Africa to a modern interpretation using eight small Statues of Liberty and the American flag.

The Jewish calendar has a number of holy days which are difficult to explain to children, like Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Rememberance Day. Jewish Holidays All Year Round includes those emotionally charged holidays, but its descriptions are pretty minimal (also a little confused: "six million Jews and other people died during the Holocaust"), leaving parents or teachers to decide how much of the story to tell. A short bibliography of Holocaust fiction for children and young adults is included.

The least successful portion of this book is the activities contained in each chapter: most are recipes requiring a lot of adult help, and the illustrations of items like an elaborate mechanized purim noisemaker from Russia will not satisfy children making groggers out of empty coffee cans.

Overall, this is an excellent resource for Jewish families; it's enjoyable to read, and the range of illustrations from the joyfully simple to the intriguingly sophisticated gives it visual appeal for a wide age range. (4-12)

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