I received a box of goodies recently from KAR-BEN Publishing. It included children's books on all levels, from toddlers to young readers.
This first review will be of two books written for young readers. Both books begin with the main characters being bullied at school. Apparently, it's a big issue in the United States and including the problem and how to deal with it makes the books more popular and marketable. Another thing they have in common is that a parent of a main character in both books has passed away, which is a reason why their grandparents are helping to raise them.
The books are well-written chapter books, printed clearly with the added bonus of Jewish history, which don't feel like school work. Actually, the topic, Sephardic Jewish History, isn't very well-known.
Let's start with The Button Box
by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams. Ava and Nadeem are first cousins who share a Ladino speaking grandmother, who's their after school caregiver. Ava is Jewish, and Nadeem is Moslem, as the children's religions follow their mothers'.
Within the family, the intermarriage of Nadeem's parents is ignored as an issue; it's just accepted, non-judgmental. But in school, which apparently has mostly Christian and Jewish students, there is prejudice against Nadeem, and Ava is encouraged by some of the Jewish kids not to hang out with him, a Muslim.
Ava and Nadeem are both exposed to their mutual Jewish Sephardic heritage by their Jewish grandmother, and that's how a magic button brings them to meet their ancestors and learn a fascinating story based on history.
The Button Box
is full of surprises. The success of Harry Potter has shown book publishers how much children, and adults, love fantasy. I'd also recommend reading the book out loud, chapter by chapter and discussing it.
There's a very helpful Glossary at the end, plus additional information about Sephardic Jews, Muslims and relevant historical background.
When Lightnin' Struck
by Betsy R. Rosenthal is another amazing book that kept me in suspense. It's set about a hundred years ago in Odessa, Texas. James, called Butch by his grandfather, has a lot to deal with. In school a bully keeps attacking him, and he only has one real friend, Paul, a recent immigrant from Odessa, Russia.
A few years before the story begins, James's father had been struck by lightning and died. Later on his alcoholic mother was jailed, so he began living with his grandparents. And then his beloved grandmother, a healer from Mexico with many secrets, passed away. Minutes before her death, she gave James a strange, secret and special coin.
When not in school, James keeps himself busy by helping his grandfather in their diner and spending time with Paul's family. Paul's family is different from the rest of the town in two big ways. They are recent immigrants and seem to be the only Jewish family in Odessa, Texas. That's how they end up helping James decipher his grandmother's secrets.
There's lots more to When Lightnin' Struck
, because James is an interesting and complex character. He's an excellent student and had learned a lot of his grandmother's healing techniques before she passed away. All of this helps him with other issues, besides giving him a direction, a purpose in life.
I highly recommend both The Button Box and When Lightnin' Struck and have already promised them to one of my grandchildren and told her she should pass them on to her cousins from her Sephardic side.
The Button Box- Product details
- Publisher : Kar-Ben Publishing ® (April 1, 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 152 pages
- ISBN-10 : 172842397X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1728423975
- Reading age : 8 - 13 years
- Lexile measure : 770
- Grade level : 3 - 7
- Publisher : Kar-Ben Publishing ® (February 1, 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1728420539
- ISBN-13 : 978-1728420530
- Reading age : 9 - 13 years
- Grade level : 4 - 7