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.

Kinship Project

voice from afarThe Butler Center opened in its permanent space two years ago today on September 11th, 2011, the tenth anniversary of that infamous day in world history. To commemorate that occasion we curated an exhibit called the Kinship Project, a collection of books for children and teens that speak to our human kinship. We created a catalog with notes that speak to each of the 29 books connection to the idea of kinship. I link here to the online version. We have some print copies as well (beautiful, actually) and I’d be happy to send some along to you, too. Just fill out the form below with your name and address and I’ll get them in the mail.

How about you? What do you remember of that day? What do your memories have to say to your work with books and young people? Where do you see kinship among the collections we keep?

My Family Valentine

When I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was the biggest holiday going. The Valentine’s Day Peacock would administer the annual treasure hunt, hiding construction paper hearts around the house, each with a different clue on it, in Latin, and it fell to me and my sisters to hunt them down, translating one to lead to the next, and so on. Each of us was assigned a different color heart (lest they get confused) and as we grew older, the clues became more difficult and more plentiful. The trail invariably ended with particular paydirt: a cellophane-wrapped, heart-shaped box of chocolates and a pair of pink socks. I believe this went on all through our high school years (though my sister swears it was the Valentine’s Day Aardvark, so my memory may not be especially dependable) and was, even as a teen, a sweet, resonant tradition. To me, Valentine’s day will always be a holiday about family, more than romance, and so I offer you a bevy of picture books about family love, in its infinite variety, as my valentine.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina by Monica Brown,  illustrated by Sara Palacios, Children’s Book Press, 2011

Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton, Candlewick, 2010

The Dog Who Belonged to No One, by Amy Hest, illustrated by Amy Bates, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2008

All Kinds of Families, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marc Boutavant, Little, Brown, 2009

My People by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Charles R. Smith, Atheneum, 2009

I’ll See You in the Morning, by Mike Jolley, illustrated by Mique Moriuchi, Roaring Brook, 2008

Monday is One Day by Arthur Levine, illustrated by Julian Hector, Scholastic, 2011

A House in the Woods by Inga Moore, Candlewick, 2011

The Family Book by Todd Parr, Little Brown, 2003

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco, Philomel, 2009

The Schmutzy Family, by Madelyn Rosenberg, illustrated by Paul Meisel, Holiday House, 2012

Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010

marisollittle owl lostdog who belonged to no one all kinds of families     my people ill see you in the morningmonday is one dayhouse in the woodsfamily bookin our mothers houseschmutzy family    mad at mommy

Gifts of Information

Our last stop on the holiday book recommendation train includes some books about real, actual people and things.

Chuck Close: Face Book

Chuck Close

Abrams, 2012

The famous portraitist tells his remarkable story, overcoming severe dyslexia, prosoagnosia (the inability to recognize faces) and paraplegia to become one of the most celebrated artists alive in an interactive book brimming with stunning detail. A class of fifth grade students in Brooklyn asks him questions, and his candid, matter-of-fact responses give us a picture of the artist just as clear and impressive as the portraits he paints of others. Exquisite, tactile and inspirational.

Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Steve Sheinkin

Macmillan, 2012

In this un-put-downable record of the Manhattan Project historian Sheinkin weaves three distinct narratives into an utterly compelling page-turner about spies, science and sabotage with abundant facts and indelible lessons. It’s always a pleasure to follow an enthusiast on a literary exploration, and the velocity of this particular journey makes it is especially exciting. Gripping, informative and scrupulous.

Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac

Anita Silvey

Macmillan, 2012

For the children’s-book-loving adult on your list, this treasure trove by noted critic Anita Silvey makes a different recommendation for every day of the year and comes overflowing with corollary tidbits of fascination. Look for Silvey’s book-a-day for more suggestions and more fun.  Erudite, expert and comprehensive.