The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol by Arthur A. Levine

Hanukkah Celebrated Nightfall Dec. 10 – Dec. 18, 2020

The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol

Arthur A. Levine, Author

Kevin Hawkes, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes: Hanukkah, Jewish holidays, Holiday hero, Myths, Immigrant families, Faith and Holiday joy

Opening: “Nate Gadol was a great big spirit who had eyes as shy as golden coins and a smile that was lantern-bright. In answer to people’s prayers, he made things last as long as they needed to.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Nate Gadol is a generous spirit whose magic can make things last exactly as long as they’re needed, like a tiny bit of oil that must stretch for eight days and nights and a flower that needs to stay fresh long after it should to cheer someone ailing. Perhaps there is a brother and a sister with only one piece of chocolate. Voilà! Nate will turn it into two pieces, or even three. And if a family is short one latke, or one candle — or needs a very long note to end a happy song.  Nate is there!

When the Glaser family immigrates to the United States in 1881, their first Hanukkah looks like it will be a meager one. And their neighbors are struggling too, with money scarce and Christmas around the corner. Even Santa’s spirits are running low because people are struggling and having trouble believing. Nate and Santa work behind the scenes together. Luckily, Nate Gadol has enough magic to make this a miraculous holiday for all.

Why I like this book:

Arthur A Levine creates a magical tale in Nate Gadol, “a new larger-than-life holiday hero who brings Hanukkah wonder and magic to all those in need.

Levine offers a mythical and magical tale about how Jewish families began to give gifts to their children during Hanukkah. This book will appeal to the many families who celebrate blended traditions that include presents, while honoring their faith and many beautiful Jewish traditions.

There is also a beautiful message of sharing between two immigrant families – one Jewish and the other Christian. The Glaser and O’Malley families help each other survive the bitter cold winter of 1881 by sharing food and selling items to purchase medicine for a sick baby. This is a story about families, friendship, faith and joy.

Children will be thrilled with the stunning illustrations. They are bold and magical with each page accented in shimmering gold. If you hold the illustrations just right in the light, you can see the golden gleam in Nate’s eyes. Magic!

Resource: Make you check out Arthur A. Levine’s “Author’s Note,” where he shares his own memories of Hanukkah and gives a lot of insight into why he wrote about the beginnings of a modern-day tradition. This is a wonderful discussion book for all families, no matter your tradition. Make homemade gifts for your family members. Donate to local food and holiday drives.

Arthur A. Levine has been a children’s publishing for more than thirty years. He is the author of many acclaimed picture books, including What a Beautiful Morning and The Very Beary Tooth Fairy. As a children’s book editor, has published may of the most exceptional children’s titles of all time, including the Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, and Peggy Rathmann’s Officer Buckle and Gloria.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar


Lucky Broken Girl

Ruth Behar, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, April 2017; Puffin Books reprint April 2018

2018 Pura Belpré Award

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes: Cuban-Americans, Immigration, Second languages, Injury, Trauma, Family relationships, Friendships, Multicultural

OpeningWhen we lived in Cuba, I was smart. But when we got to Queens, in New York City, in the United States of America, I became dumb, just because I couldn’t speak English. So I got put in the dumb class in fifth grade at P.S. 117. It’s the class for the bobos, the kids who failed at math and reading.

Synopsis: When Ruthie Mizrahi moves with her family from her homeland of Cuba to the bustling streets of New York, it’s a lot to take in. There are new sights, new sound, and a new language. But Ruthie is adjusting. She’s already mastering English and has made some new friends. In her neighborhood, she is  known as the Hopscotch Queen. And she dreams of getting a pair of “go-go” boots, like her friend Danielle.

After she and her family spend the day with old friends on Staten Island, Ruthie and her family are in a car accident on the way home. Ruthie’s leg is broken in several places and she ends up in a body cast that stretches all the way from her chest to her toes. Just when she was starting to feel like life in New York would be okay, she’ll have to lie in bed for eight months and be treated like a baby again. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grows larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how a diverse group of friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

Why I like this book:

This novel has heart, courage and hope. It’s uniquely diverse community of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers will restore your faith in humanity. And readers will cheer Ruthie as she overcomes her fears and learns to walk again.

I especially like how Ruthie turns her anger and hate towards the boy who injured her into forgiveness and hope. She is relieved her parents won’t sue the boy’s family, because she realizes that they lost their son and are suffering. Ruthie concludes that people makes mistakes, but that doesn’t mean their bad.

It is a perfect book for readers recovering from a trauma or injury. As an adult I endured two traumatic injuries, so I understand how frightening this would be for a child. When Ruthie’s cast is removed after eight months, the real recovery begins on both physical and emotional levels. Ruthie is fearful and doesn’t feel safe outside of her bed.  She has to find her personal power again in a most remarkable way with the creative help and laughter of many memorable characters supporting her.

Lucky Broken Girl is based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, as a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl who is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed by a car accident that leaves her in a body cast. The interview with Ruth Behar at the end of the book is a must read. It will give readers greater insight into the story. Visit Behar at her website. There is a short video with the author. This is a great summer read!

Ruth Behar is an acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction. Lucky Broken Girl, is her first book for young readers. She was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in New York City, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. An anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, she is the author of The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart, An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba, and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys, and other books about her travels, as well as a bilingual book of poetry, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and travels often to Miami and Havana.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A Different Pond

Bao Phi, Author & Poet

Thi Bui, Illustrator

Capstone Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes: Father and son, Fishing, Immigrants, Refugees, Vietnam

Opening: Dad wakes me quietly so Mom can keep sleeping.  It will be hours before the sun comes up. In the kitchen the bare bulb is burning. Dad has been up for a while, making sandwiches and packing the car. “Can I help?” I ask “Sure,” my dad whispers and hands me the tackle box.

Publisher Synopsis: Acclaimed poet Bao Phi delivers a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son―and between cultures, old and new. A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event―a long-ago fishing trip. As a young boy, Bao Phi awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.

The New York Times has said that Bao Phi’s poetry “rhymes with the truth.” Together with graphic novelist Thi Bui’s striking, evocative art, Phi’s expertly crafted prose reflects an immigrant family making its way in a new home while honoring its bonds to the past.

Why I like this book:

Phi first wrote the book as a poem. I enjoyed the spare and poetic language throughout this inspiring autobiographical story about his first-generation family who immigrated from Vietnam to a new life in Minnesota. Graphic novelist Thi Bui’s stunning and expressive illustrations capture the mood of this remarkable story.

Phi’s story is a beautiful and memorable story about the powerful bond between a father and son as they rise early in the morning to go fishing to feed his family. The story is multi-layered as the father works two jobs to support his family, adjusts to a new and unfamiliar culture and cherishes the time spends with his son. While they fish, the father is transported back to his memories of fishing with his brother in a different pond in Vietnam.  He talks about the war and how he and his brother fought together.

Resources: Talk with your children about your own family immigration stories. We are a nation of immigrants and we all have stories. Share family photographs. This is another poignant immigration story for teachers to use in their diverse classrooms.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.