Thursday, May 14, 2015

Here is the World

Perhaps like other families, we have a library visit routine.  We return our books by the front door as we walk in, then we head towards the back of the library where the children's section is located.  Frances likes to look for book on the library catalog, and then we all browse the picture book and children's fiction shelves.  After that the kids sometimes play on the computers or at the train table before we check out.  But our visits often lack trips to one section in particular, and it makes me a little sad.  We rarely visit the nonfiction section.  At our library, the adult and children's nonfiction is interfiled.  There are pluses and minuses to this arrangement - as a librarian, I often recommended that adults researching a subject start with children's books.  Sometimes that was enough information on a subject without seeming too overwhelming.  Other times a children's nonfiction book provided sources for research for the adult reader, just as I often point out to young readers.  So having the adult and children's nonfiction interfiled is useful to provide a broad range of reading material on a topic.  On the other hand, that means that the collection isn't as browsable for young children or parents.  Our nonfiction collection is in a different part of the building. and it's difficult to go over and spend time looking at a particular section.  Either I've left Frances and Gloria in the children's section by themselves and run over to find something specific, or I bring them with me into the nonfiction section.  They might find one or two books they want (on the last trip, Gloria found books on making jewelry and papercrafting), but then the sheer number of books on the shelves becomes overwhelming and they lost interest.

Luckily for me and my voracious interest in children's nonfiction, there is a small display of new children's nonfiction in a corner of the children's section.  It usually has about ten titles on it, and I always check out what's available when we are there.  A few weeks ago I was lucky to find Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays on that shelf.

Here is the World is a luminous picture book, giving short rhymes to describe the Jewish holidays during the year.  Newman starts with the celebrations that happen at any time of year, like Shabbat and naming ceremonies for new baby girls.  Then she begins at the start of the Jewish year, which happens with Rosh Hashanah in the fall.  Each season is introduced with a rhyming couplet and a two page spread.  Then holidays within that season are shown chronologically.  It helps readers who may not be Jewish connect the holidays visually with the season.  Many of the holidays are also tied to the season they are celebrated in.  For instance, on the page explaining Sukkot (which is a fall holiday), the text reads "Here is the sukkah, its roof made of twigs./ Here are some grapes, pomegranates, and figs."  A young reader may not pay attention to the fact that all of the fruits listed are harvested in the fall, but they will see pumpkins and sunflowers scattered around the sukkah too, reinforcing the fall theme.

The same thing happens in the spring, with the holiday of Tu B'Shevat.  The poem reads "Here is some dirt and some seeds to be sown./ Here are some trees that are already grown."  The reader can see trees scattered throughout the illustration, all fully in bloom, as well as see children planting. This connects the holiday immediately to spring, even if a reader doesn't understand the Hebrew name of the holiday.  This is a very effective and simple way to bring the holidays to life for readers, as well as root them in the everyday.

I was impressed with the fluidity of the text.  Newman does a masterful job of creating easy to read rhymes that are catchy yet simple.  I've mentioned before that there are only two lines of text to convey a feeling of the holiday.  It's no easy feat particularly as there is so much symbolism to convey.  There are also Hebrew words used throughout the text, bu it's done so that you can't really accidentally mispronounce them.  Even though words are there without a contextual pronunciation guide, the Hebrew words often rhyme with other words, giving an insecure reader a leg up on how that word is said.

And this book wouldn't be as successful without the amazing illustrations.  The illustrations help readers with clues to the celebration. At Purim, the text reads "Here's a parade - come and march with the crowd! Here is a grogger to shake nice and loud."  You might not know what Purim is, but you can see that the participants are in costume, and three of the four people featured are shaking the groggers.  If you aren't sure what a grogger is, you could recognize it from the illustration.  The picture exudes fun and noise.  There is confetti, strewn about and noisemakers galore.  You feel like you are there, celebrating.  At Passover, the text describes a Haggadah laid at each setting.  Again, the word may be unfamiliar, but you can identify the little boy placing the Haggadah.  Even if you know nothing of the Haggadah's purpose or meaning, you can see its size and shape there.

Another thing that I adore about the illustrations are their connection to family.  The same family is shown throughout the book, always celebrating together.  The family is young, with children.  Each family member wears the same pattern throughout the book, helping to keep them identifiable (an especially genius idea, since the celebrations often involve other people).  They are always smiling, hugging, helping each other - it is clear that they are enjoying their time together.  One of my favorite illustrations takes place at the end of the book.  The family is lighting a paper lantern together.  Their faces are lit with joy, awe, contentment and wonder.  Gal makes you feel like you are eavesdropping on a wonderful moment - one of those times that will become a cherished memory.

And finally, I can't move on without celebrating the exemplary back matter in this title.  There are paragraphs detailing additional information about the Jewish customs and holidays highlighted in the text.  Some of the Hebrew words are defined, some of the symbols explained.  Again, these are done in an easy to read manner, so readers can stop ad refer to them during a reading session without too much interruption.  But my favorite is the final piece of back matter - a section of holiday crafts and recipes! The crafts are all easy for children to perform with little assistance and the recipes also indicate when an adult should help.  It's a terrific supplement to the book's text.  And it all comes together in a glorious book that will interest any reader.

Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays.  By Lesléa Newman; illustrated by Susan Gal.  Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014.

borrowed from the Lewis & Clark Library

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