Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays

here is the worldHere is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays

written by Lesléa Newman

illustrated by Susan Gal

Abrams, 2014

Sometimes I love a book on sight. It’s not fair, I know, or smart, really, to offer up my affection before I have really gotten to know the book a little, but sometimes I can’t help it. I had just such a reaction to this book. And I’m happy to report that deeper study and familiarity prove that my instincts were right. It’s splendid. And this, Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish year, seems the perfect day to sing its praises.

My affection began with the images. They are bright and cheerful and immediately arresting, but that basic appeal is just the beginning of their wonder. Susan Gal is a master of composition and shape. Every spread exhibits ordered balance and movement, reinforcing the sense of celebration with steady energy. And her figure work is just exquisite, with impeccable proportion and individual consistency. This seems a small thing, perhaps, but I can think of plenty of illustrators, some of them household names, who don’t approach the skillful grace of this warm, vital portraiture.

The color work enjoys the same sense of energy and balance, with rich, saturated jewel tones humming beside one another, glowing with naturalistic light. Indeed, whether lit by sunlight or stars, every spread elicits a sense of presence, so immediate is the setting.

And Gal employs all of this skill and style to a cumulative visual story that threads the family’s experience through the year. These holidays are not abstract, isolated festivities, but the real and meaningful celebrations of a close family.

For her part, Newman’s rhythmic verse scans beautifully (would that all rhyming text scan this well!), inviting, even imploring to be read aloud. But, just like the pictures, there’s substance behind the style, with family as the central theme.

This wonderful book will find its way to many libraries because of its useful and  accessible treatment of important cultural information, but I sure hope it has a chance to extend beyond its simple utility and has a chance to delight with its profound and handsome charms.

Shanah tovah.

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