Saturday, December 29, 2007

Suite Francaise - 3M's Review

suitefrancaise.JPGSuite Fran├žaise is the incredible incomplete set of novels by Irene Nemirovsky, a Russian Jew who had been living in Paris for 10 years before ultimately dying in Auschwitz. The preface to the French edition states that:
She dreamed of a book of a thousand pages, constructed like a symphony, but in five sections, according to rhythm and tone. She took Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as a model.

Sadly, only two of the planned five were completed. In these stories, she creates such vivid characters and situations that it is a shame we never get to find out what happened to them. She was a fine writer. Her characters were so well-defined; I cared about the worthy ones and loathed the loathsome ones. Even in her description of the latter, there was humor to be found. Both good and bad die, and of course the question is always, "Why?" The accounts of the flight from Paris as the Germans descended on them during 1940 were chilling and frighteningly relevant to what could happen today. Then, during the section depicting the occupation of France, I was most surprised at her portrayal of the German soldiers, in which some could be seen as sympathetic.

Her two daughters had kept these stories in a suitcase for years, not even looking at them as it was too painful. When one of her daughters did finally take out the papers to type them, she found this wonderful, incomplete novel and it was published in France in 2004, sixty-two years after her death in 1942.

Highly recommended.

2006 for the English translation, 367 pp.
Rating: 4.5

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Christmas Revolution by Barbara Cohen

Stars: ****1/2

This book was read for the Jewish Literature Challenge and the Christmas Theme Challenge because I couldn't get a hold of the books I originally chose.

It is the story of Simeone, an Orthodox Jew who refuses to participate in his school's Christmas activities. He convinces Emily, a Jewish Girl who has always just gone along with the Christmas activities to not participate too, to make a stand. Sally, Emily's twin sister however, doesn't see anything wrong with doing the activities, even if they don't believe. However both the twins and Simeone are being treated poorly just because Emily and Simeone stand up for what they feel is right. When the school Christmas Tree is found tipped over, everyone blames Simeone. He may not celebrate Christmas and refuse to participate, but he wouldn't knock over the tree. How can they prove it?

This book is a great story for Jewish Kids ages 8 and up.

I remember in grade school, there was one kid who didn’t celebrate Christmas, although he wasn’t Jewish or Muslim. He chose to sit out in the hall and do other work while we did Christmas puzzles or arts and crafts or read Christmas books. He didn’t come to school for our Christmas party. A year or so later, our school was getting a little more diverse and they changed our morning announcements to include announcing other cultures celebrations and to do a prayer/greeting from a different culture each morning. The only thing we always did was O Canada. Trying to be politically correct is a big thing now, so much so that’s it’s been taken to a whole new level. First it was a Christmas Tree, then a Holiday Tree, now it’s a Winter tree. I think we need to find a happy medium. The fact is, the majority of people in our society do celebrate Christmas but we should also teach the history and basics of the other holidays that are celebrated. Not just Chanukkah but Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Yule and Diwali too. If someone of a different culture wants to participate in the activities of Christmas, we should let them. However we should never force them.

This story was a good introduction to these issues that we adults deal with often in our society. This would be a good group read as it goes easily into a discussion. I can think of many questions I’d want to ask my kid’s after they read this. What would you have done if you were Emily? Do you think Simeone was going overboard or just standing up for his rights as he should have been. Do you think we should go to school separated by our religions? Would that solve the problem or just make us less tolerant? I could go on and on.

I definitely recommend this book, not just to kids, but adults too. I think our society needs to look at how we can be accepting of other cultures without overdoing it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Two Chanukah books

We read both of these books for Hanukkah this year.

Moishe's Miracle: A Hanukkah Story
Author: Laura Krauss Melmed
Illustrator: David Slonim
Country: America
Year: 2000
Award: 2000 National Jewish Book Award, Children's Lit.

Starlight, star bright
Magic on a winter's nigth
White snow, candle glow
Far away and long ago...

I loved this story. LOVED IT. Moishe is a milk farmer with a truly generous spirit, always giving out extra milk and cream to villagers in need in his small town of Wishniak. His wife, Baila, worries that Moishe's generosity means they will not have enough for themselves to eat. When Moishe receives from a stranger a magic frying pan that produces as many latkes as he desires, the reader discovers the true meaning of generosity, and honesty. I love the folk tale style of this story, and the beautiful illustrations, and will be a delight to read at Hanukkah each year with our daughter. The inclusion of Yiddish and Hebrew words offer learning experiences for both mummy and daughter. :)

Title: Hanukkah at Valley Forge
Author: Stephen Krensky
Illustrator: Greg Harlin
Country: America
Year: 2006

Hanukkah at Valley Forge is the winner of the 2007 Sydney Taylor Award for Young Readers, an award that recognizes the best Jewish children's literature. This story, inspired by a true event, takes place during a bleak winter at Valley Forge (near Philadelphia, PA) in the midst of the American Revolution. General George Washington, through one of his Polish-born soldiers, learns about the history of Hanukkah, drawing a parallel between the Maccabee's war with his own fight for independence.

Geared towards slightly older beginning readers, this is a delightful book that also educates readers of the Jewish presence in early American history.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New Challenge Member

Hi, I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Heidi Estrin and I've recently joined the Jewish Literature Challenge!

I'm involved with Jewish books in several ways. I'm a librarian at Congregation B'nai Israel, a Reform synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida. I host a podcast called The Book of Life, which features Jewish books, music, film and web. And I'm past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award, which recognizes the best in Judaic children's literature each year. I will definitely be reading more than 5 Jewish books by the deadline of this challenge!

FYI, for those of you who love kidlit, the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee is currently deliberating, and the 2008 winners will be announced in early January! Keep an eye on - and I'll also post an announcement here. The award is given by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Looking forward to seeing what everybody's reading!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Recommended Reading

Beacon Broadside has two posts in honour of Jewish Book Month with recommended reading, here's the first one and the second one.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Golden Dreydl (Becky)

Kushner, Ellen. 2007. The Golden Dreydl.

File this review under better late than never. I had *every* intention in the world of reading and reviewing this one in time for Chanukah. Really. But it got buried in a box. By the time I remembered I needed to find it, it was the last day. I didn't get it read until Wednesday night. And I'm just now getting to the reviewing part.

Before it was a book, it was a musical performance. It is performed live, and there are also radio productions of it. And a CD.

"The Golden Dreydl" is an award-winning family entertainment featuring the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as interpreted by Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, with original story and narration by Ellen Kushner. Together, they have created a brand-new retelling of an old tale: Sara is a little girl with a problem: she hates the annual family Chanukah party! But when a mysterious party guest gives her the gift of a golden dreydl, Sara is catapulted into a magical world of demons and fools, sorcerers and sages.

Knowing that it is a "Jewish" interpretation of The Nutcracker helps when you're reading the book. You know in some ways what to expect.

Sara is a young girl who is not excited about Chanukah. She'd much rather be celebrating just like her friends--with Christmas trees and such. But Sara is on her way to a Chanukah celebration she'll never forget. A most magical time is about to be had--at least for Sara. And it all starts with a gift that is not what it seems. A gift that comes to life. A golden dreydl.

I really enjoyed this one.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I Have A Little Dreidel by Maxie Baum

Illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Stars: ****

The well-known song told in story form with many more verses. Very cute.

The Chanukkah Tree and The Chanukkah Guest by Eric A. Kimmel

Illustrated by Giora Carmi
Stars: *****
Adorable story of a guy selling christmas trees who has only one left and convinces the not so bright town Chelm that it’s a Hanukkah tree and it’s all the rage in America. So starts a tradition. 5 and up.

Illustrated by Giora Carmi
Stars: ***
Old lady who can’t see well is cooking meal for rabbi and other guests. A hungry bear comes by and the woman thinks it’s the rabbi. When the real rabbi comes by, all the food is gone! Happy Chanukkah, Bear.

Hanukkah Lights, Hanukkah Nights by Leslie Kimmelman

Illustrated by John Himmenlman
Stars: ***
Short board book about what’s done on each night of hanukkah. E.g The Nieces spin their four-sided dreidels. Tonight is the fourth night of Hanukkah. The flames on the cover are sparkly.

Hanukkah! by Roni Schotter

Illustrated by Marylin Hafner

Stars: *****

Cute story of a family celebrating hanukkah, saying prayers, singing songs, lighting menorah, cooking latkes, spinning dreidels. Also baby Moe learns how to say hanukkah.

Even Higher by Richard Ungar

Stars: ****

I received this book for review from Tundra Books.

The story of the town’s Rabbi who mysteriously disappears the day before Rosh Hashanah every year. The villagers think he must be soaring up to heaven to beg forgiveness for the sins of the townspeople, but is he? Young Reuven and his friends aren’t so certain so Rueven follows the rabbi to learn the truth. Reuven follows the rabbi, disguised as a woodcutter passed the synagogue, the cheder and Beryl the Baker’s House and enters the great forest. Where could be possibly be going?

This is a great Jewish folktale with a great ending. If I was raising my chidren Jewish this is a book I would want and even though I’m not, it’s a good book to teach of my Jewish background (and therefore my daughter’s.) The book is for ages 7-10 although I could see reading it as young as 5.

The illustrations are much different than anything I’ve ever seen which you can get a glimpse of via the book cover.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Information and Signup

*This is a sticky post, scroll down for newest posts*

What: Reading at least 5 books by Jewish Authors or about Judaism
When: December 4, 2007 (Beginning of Hanukkah) to April 26, 2008 (End of Passover)
Who: Anyone who wants to participate! Bloggers or Non-Bloggers alike
Where: Right here of course! You can also post your picks and reviews to your own blog if you have one or course.
How: Sign the comments on THIS post to join this blog. Once I've added you, you can post your picks here and when the time comes, post your reviews here too. I'm sure you'll want to post about this challenge on your blog too. Use the banner above and link to this blog.

Are you wondering more about what books are okay?
Fiction, Non-fiction, memoirs, Adult books, Teen books, Children's books, books about the Holocaust, books about anti-semitism, books about Jewish Life, Jewish Culture, Jewish Customs. Books by Jewish Authors no matter what the subject.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Vasilly's List

I still don't have all five of the books I'm going to read for this challenge, but I think I'm going to leave the last possibility open to whatever book I discover. Here's my list:
Beware of God - Shalom Auslander
The Wholeness of a broken heart - Katie Singer
The World to Come - Dara Horn or In the Image by the same author
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

The list can change at any time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Zahava's list


I'm Zahava, and I work in a synagogue in Alaska.

I picked these five books from a bunch I got at a recent book sale at my shul. It was a jackpot for replenishing my reading because the used books stores up here don't have. I noticed that I have some overlaps with some other folks, but I think that's fine--maybe we'll have more to discuss!

Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon
Rabbis and Wives by Chaim Grade
The Rent Tent by Anita Diamant
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality

I already read three from the book sale:
a novel called Days of Awe by Achy Obejas which is about a Cuban-American daughter of a crypto-Jew with a a very pained past
Aimee & Jaguar by Erika Fischer non-fiction account of two German women lovers, one Jewish, and one married to a Nazi, during the time of the Holocaust
and Chosen By God: A Brother's Journey by Joshua Hammer a secular Jew's memoir of his brother's path to Orthodox Judaism

I would recommend all three as an enjoyable, educational read. I learned more about Jews in Cuba, Jews who attemtped to live in Berlin "underground," and the inside life of some sects of Orthodoxy I am less familiar with. What I didn't understand was why Hammer was so angry with his brother for becoming Orthodox. He is so upset with his brother that the book initially left a bad taste in my mouth, but I eventually came to appreciate the book as much for the stories from withing his brother's world as for the insight into the author's thoughts and relationship to his brother.

If anyone out there is looking for other book suggestions, here are some of my other favorites:

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg is one of my all-time favorite Jewish books! Homemaking manual meets halachic instructions meets 1970s feminist--count me in! If only the world weren't so slow to arrive to some of Greenberg's visions. Nevertheless, I appreciate the detail with which she explains the efforts to create a traditional Jewish home.

Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok is a touching and poignant novel about a girl's journeys in Judaism.

Mazel by Rebeccau Goldstein is a novel of three generations of Jewish women who go from shteltl to Yiddish New York stage to secular America to academia back to Orthodox New Jersey. A fantastic journey!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Becky's List

Here are my list of books. I'm sure I can't get to all of them. But I am going to try to read at least five of them. As always, I may change the list as I go along.

The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
I Have Lived A Thousand Years by Livia Bitton Jackson
(My Bridges of Hope by Livia Bitton Jackson)
(Hello, America by Livia Bitton Jackson)
No Pretty Pictures by Anita Lobel
Night by Elie Wiesel
Until We Meet Again by Michael Korenblit and Kathleen Janger
Alicia My Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman
The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender
To Life by Ruth Minsky Sender
Isabella From Auschwitz to Freedom by Isabella Leitner
The Tale of The Ring: A Kaddish by Frank Stiffel
Dry Tears: The Story of A Lost Childhood by Nechama Tec
A Special Fate Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust by Alison Leslie Gold
In My Hands: Memories of A Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke
I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree by Laura Hillman

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
Escaping Into the Night by D.Dina Friedman
Shanghai Shadows by Lois Ruby

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Callista's List

Okay I finally decided on my books. I'll be reading the following:

The Christmas Revolution by Barbara Cohen
The Rabbi's Girls by Johanna Hurwitz
A Woman in Jerusalem by A.B. Yehoshua
Emil and Karl by Jacob Glatstein
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy
The Illuminated Soul by Aryeh Lev Stollman

Plus I'll be reading Picture books and Children's Non-fiction on Hannukah and Passover that I just pick from the library at the time.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Maria's list

My picks. Only 5 as I don't want to get too overwhelmed. I do have a list of alternatives or 'extra credit' though.
  • The Diary Of A Young Girl - Anne Frank
  • The Physician - Noah Gordon
  • The Last Jew - Noah Gordon
  • The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Bom
  • The Red Tent - Anita Diamant