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Reading to Reflect: Book Recommendations for the Whole Family

Two picture books, two middle grade, and two books for adults to devour during the High Holiday season

By The Children’s Bookroom

Published Aug 21, 2023

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As summer starts to fade and the holidays approach, I often feel the pressure of reading more seriously staring me down, maybe a legacy from the “back to school” days. No more Summer Library Reading charts with stickers for rewards!

The time has come to read serious books with a pen in hand. But who says that reading for reflection and reading for pleasure are incompatible? I climb onto my eternal soapbox: if reading is only a duty, it falls to pieces, for child or adult.

Here are six books for young children, readers, and adults that have made me think, laugh, and argue. Above all, each of these books keeps hopping on and off my shelves, as I’m eager to visit them repeatedly, either with a child or by myself.

Picture Books

The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson and Evan Turk

As a Jewish child growing up in a shetl in Lithuania, Ben Shahn yearns to draw everything he sees —and does so in the family Bible! After seeing his father banished by the Czar for demanding workers’ rights, he develops a keen sense of justice, too. So, when Ben and his family make their way to America, he brings both his artistic eye and his desire to fight for what’s right.

Ben Shahn painted what he saw to build a world he wished to see.

A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of the Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, art by Lou Francher and Steve Johnson

This book celebrates the life of Ezra Jack Keats, highlighting his journey as a Jewish artist advocating for representation, especially for Black children. Keats, once Jacob Ezra Katz, navigated challenges, eventually becoming a pivotal figure in children’s literature, offering a voice and place for underrepresented communities. Through vivid storytelling, Pinkney illuminates Keats’ profound impact, shedding light on his legacy as an artist who deeply cared for others.

Books for Your Middle Schooler

Aviva vs the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe

“Aviva vs. the Dybbuk” follows Aviva, a girl haunted by a mischievous dybbuk in her Jewish community. As tensions rise within the community and Aviva’s own relationships strain, she faces mounting danger tied to her past. “Aviva vs. the Dybbuk” weaves a poignant tale of friendship, grief, and a resilient girl navigating the complexities of her world.

Shira and Esther’s Double Dream Debut  by Anna E. Jordan

When Shira and Esther cross paths, they’re stunned by their striking resemblance. While they’re mirror images physically, their dreams and family backgrounds are worlds apart. As they hatch a plan to trade lives, aiming for Shira’s talent show success and Esther’s flawless bat mitzvah, they dive into a risky adventure that demands more than a little chutzpah to pull off.

Books for You

Fly Already by Etgar Keret

In this collection of short stories by Keret, expect the unexpected. Blink with surprise as the tales shift ground beneath you, blurring lines between characters and narratives. Through laughter, fear, and deep empathy, Keret crafts stories where diverse lives converge, leaving you feeling more connected to the human experience than ever before.

Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal

“Letters to Camondo” by Edmund de Waal unravels a tragic family saga through a collection of imagined letters to Moise de Camondo. This intimate correspondence delves into themes of assimilation, family, art, and the impact of history, shedding light on the fate of the Camondo family, paralleling de Waal’s own connections and reflections.

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Deborah Furchtgott is a children's book reviewer at The Children's Bookroom.

Reflections

The Power of Art and Literature

Many of the books and stories discussed serve as platforms for expressing diverse themes, ranging from personal relationships and self-discovery to broader societal issues. How do the authors and artists utilize their respective mediums to convey intricate emotions, messages, and historical narratives? How does the combination of storytelling, visuals, and historical context enrich our understanding of these subjects?

Reflection Through Generations

The article presents works that span different time periods, from historical accounts such as The People’s Painter and Letters to Camondo to more contemporary stories. How do these books, while varied in their settings and narratives, reflect the enduring themes of struggle, self-awareness, and the desire for societal belonging? How might readers of different generations resonate with the experiences and emotions captured within these works, and what does this say about the universality of these themes across time?

BONUS:

Resources for Teachers on The People's Painter.

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