Brianna is about to have her bat mitzvah, and she can’t quite seem to remember why she let her mom guilt her into it. Brianna doesn’t speak Hebrew very well, and she hasn’t gone to a private Jewish school in a few years, or even to the synagogue for classes. She also doesn’t like attention all that much, and is having a lot of anxiety about it. It also addresses important topics that many of us have experienced but don’t often see in books like divorced parents, shared custody, and financial strain.
We really enjoyed this graphic novel, it’s so rare to find one about a big life event like a bat mitzvah! Brianna is a smart and funny feminist spitfire, which we couldn’t get enough of. She isn’t afraid to question her own beliefs, and raise religious questions that she has during her study preparing for the big event. Neither of us are religious at all, and I really love how openly the book addresses feeling unsure about commitment to a religious community. It’s a very realistic representation of growing up, and all of the anxieties that come with agreeing to something months in advance that a person might not be completely onboard with.
This book was kindly sent to us by HarperCollins, but all opinions are our own! This graphic novel is being released on May 5th.
About the Author & Illustrator:
Terri Libenson (pronounced LEE-ben-son) is a bestselling children’s book author and award-winning cartoonist of the syndicated daily comic strip, The Pajama Diaries, which ran from 2006-2020. She was also an award-winning humorous card writer for American Greetings.
Terri graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BFA in illustration and a minor in art history. She developed her first professional comic strip, Got a Life, in 2000, which was distributed by King Features Weekly Service. The Pajama Diaries launched with King Features in 2006 and ran in hundreds of newspapers internationally until its retirement in January, 2020. Pajama Diaries has been nominated four times for the Reuben Award for “Best Newspaper Comic Strip” by the National Cartoonists Society and won in 2016. You can read the Pajama Diaries archives daily on ComicsKingdom.
This is a very sweet book that delicately explains the refugee experience of a family in a lullaby style. A young girl happily plays outside and then eats dinner with her family, a shiny menorah on their windowsill. When night falls, the foursome set off walking into the forest. The young girl says goodnight, “Lilah Tov” to the animals she sees on their walk, bundled up in the snowy weather. She is shown happy and smiling for the entire book, optimistic and reverent of the natural world surrounding her.
While this is one refugee experience represented, it is not so detailed that it couldn’t be used to generally explain the big picture concept of the refugee experience to young readers. The book itself is beautiful, and the main character is thrilled to wish all things, creatures and non, a good night. The majority of the family’s travel takes place at night, including a long boat ride underneath a large starry sky. This would be a great story for people looking to introduce these lived experiences to younger audiences, or before reading other books that have more violent aspects for fleeing. Four Feet, Two Sandals; My Name is Sangoel, and The Banana Leaf Ball are all books that would fall under this second category. All in all, we enjoyed this book very much and would be happy to have it on any bookshelf we encountered.
This book was generously sent by the author, but all opinions are our own!
About the Author & the Illustrator:
It’s hard to say which has been more of a driving force for Ben Gundersheimer: music or storytelling. Throughout his career the two crafts have intertwined, propelling him as a performer and author. By age nine he was writing his own original songs, and as the son of children’s book author/illustrator Karen Gundersheimer, composing stories was a constant activity as well.
Ben went on to receive a scholarship from Berklee College of Music, travel the world as a singer/songwriter, and earn a Masters of Education. During his student teaching days he engaged his fourth graders through music, and it was this experience that transformed him into MISTER G, inspiring him to relaunch his career to focus on performing for children and families.
A decade later, the Latin GRAMMY Award-winning musician, activist, author and educator, is still fusing music and storytelling. The latest permutation of these two interwoven passions is as a picture book author, with two new books based on his original, multilingual songs. Señorita Mariposa chronicles the extraordinary migration of the monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico, while Lilah Tov Good Night is a lyrical lullaby celebrating the beauty of the natural world and the spirit of resilience in a refugee family.
From illustrator Noar Lee Naggan’s website: “Hi! I’m an illustrator living in New York, chiefly interested in children’s books. I also have a great passion to tell stories, and do it through my illustrations. I aspire to one day write my own books and illustrate them.
I was born in Israel and graduated from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. I previously worked mostly in animation and graphic design with major companies in Israel, but several years ago I found my calling in illustration and I never looked back.”
Summary: This book is AMAZING. The short story anthology focuses on LGBTQ and/or interracial relationships, and truly there is nothing like it that I’ve read ever. These underrepresented voices are compiled into one beautiful book that spans both genres and time itself.
All of the stories in the book are great, but there were a few that were enjoyed most of all. Death and the Maiden is a breathtaking tale, retelling the story of Hades and Persephone but with a twist. It’s one of the longer stories (which is still only about 20 pages) and I was hooked from beginning to end! Giving Up the Ghost was another story that fascinated me. In the story, people are matched up with a ghostly ancestor from their family at the age of 9. This is such a creative concept for world-building, and it left me wanting both more to the story and my own family ghost!
This is a book that amplifies marginalized voices in a powerful way. It makes differences in humanity front and center, and honestly it’s very emotional to open a book knowing that so many lived experiences that are often oppressed or ignored will be written on the pages. We highly recommend this book!
About the Authors & the Editor:
Sangu Mandanna was four years old when an elephant chased her down a forest road and she decided to write her first story about it. Seventeen years and many, many manuscripts later, she signed her first book deal. Sangu now lives in Norwich, a city in the east of England, with her husband and kids.
These images with author information were taken from the back of the book:
Summary: Gino Bartali was a small and sickly child, but he loved riding a bicycle more than anything else. He got a part-time job at a bike shop to learn more, competed in his first race at the age of 12, but didn’t get his parents’ proper blessing to be a full-time professional cyclist until age 17. Gino worked incredibly hard and in 1938 got a spot to compete in the Tour de France. Even though he crashed his bicycle trying not to hit some spectators that decided to cross the road, Gino won! In his speech, he didn’t mention Mussolini who had taken control of Italy, and this angered the authorities. Mussolini had teamed up with Adolf Hitler, and many years of hardship had begun.
When Gino returned home, he received a call from his good friend who also happened to be a cardinal and the archbishop of a church in Florence. The cardinal had a plan to smuggle false papers into the country to help the Jewish folks assume non-Jewish identities for the duration of the war, keeping them safe from deportation to the concentration camps. Gino doctored his bicycle frame to hide papers and went on long training rides back and forth through the mountains, shuttling papers back and forth to help the cardinal.
This is a fantastic book about a historical figure in multiple arenas! We had never heard of Gino Bartali before reading this book, and are so glad his story was published. After the story is finished there is an Afterword containing a photo of Gino and more detailed information about his life. Overall, this is a fantastic book for elementary school students and we highly recommend it!
This book was sent to us by Capstone for consideration in the Best Books of 2019 List put on by the Read With River book club, but all opinions are our own!
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Amalia Hoffman an author/illustrator. Her board book, Dreidel Day is scheduled for publication by Lerners Publishing Group/ Kar Ben Publishing for Fall, 2018.
She also wrote and illustrated The Klezmer Bunch and Purim Goodies. (Gefen Publishing House) Both books were chosen as notable stories for children by the Association of Jewish Libraries. The Klezmer Bunch was selected by the Tony Award winning choreographer/producer, Elizabeth Swados for inclusion in her play, Jewish Books Cooking.
Amalia’s article, Queen Esther and Me, was published in the March 2016 issue of Highlights Magazine for Children.
Amalia designed and illustrated Rose Bud, on oversized book with pop-up elements, created as prop for Israel’s children’s theater, The Train.
Amalia received the SCBWI portfolio award in the category of Fantasy in 2005. Her art was voted best at the illustration display in the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference in 2014 and she received 2nd place at the 2016 conference.
She actively promotes her books with entertaining presentations and was voted as
finalist in SCBWI storytelling competition.
Amalia is a teaching artist affiliated with ArtsWestchester. She is a member of SCBWI and Children’s Books Illustrator Guild.
I am Chiara
I was born in Milan in 1973. I live in a little village 50 km far from Milan where I live with my family and my pets.
I attended Art School in Milan and took a degree in Illustration at La Scuola del Fumetto in Milan. I had also attended several workshops with illustrators such as Gianni DeConno, Arcadio Lobato, Svjetlan Junakovic and a course with the publisher Paolo Canton (Topipittori) called Projecting Books.
I work mainly for children publishers all around the word, storyboarding for advertising and movie. Magazines. I use a combination of mixed traditional media and digital.
My artwork is varied and I feel my style is always evolving.
WORK EXPERIENCE Freelance illustrator, editorial designer, storyboard artist for advertising and movies.
I work with big and small Publishers in Italy, Greece, USA, UK, France, Germany.
I am currently represented by illustration Agency ASTOUND.US
Summary: This book is so great! The world of children’s literature desperately needs more diversity, and this book fills several gaps. Having more main characters of color, especially a family that is Jewish is much needed. Ezra’s family is interracial, and celebrate Shabbat weekly.
Ezra is a bright, curious character. He loves being Jewish, and asking questions. One of his favorite days is Shabbat, because no one does any work. This gets Ezra thinking, what is considered work? Can knots be tied? Can Ezra even tie his shoes on Shabbat?? Wandering around the house, Ezra asks each of his siblings his BIG question but none of them can enlighten him. Ezra’s mother says she will look it up, and then his dad arrives home just in time for Shabbat. His BIG question will have to wait! The reader is introduced to a few vocabulary words and concepts related to Shabbat, as well as the blessing that Ezra’s mom sings. The next morning, shoes still untied, Ezra is able to track down Rabbi Andy to ask his BIG question. Rabbi Andy explains that people follow Judaism all over the world, and everyone interprets the rules a little differently. This makes sense to Ezra, but he’s still unsure on if HIS family is allowed to tie knots, even temporary ones, on Shabbat. As Ezra goes into the sanctuary for the start of services, he bumps into his dad who tells Ezra to tie his shoes.
This book does a great job of explaining the nuances of the religion, and presenting a simple question that adults may not consider but is very important to young people. Another small side plot of this story we found particularly funny is that in the beginning Ezra wonders if the cat thinks in English, but in several places throughout the story we see thought bubbles above their two cats and they’re in fact NOT thinking in English! This book does a fantastic job introducing a young audience to Judaism without knocking the reader over the head. The story is believable, the illustrations are adorable, and the reader is left wanting to know what other BIG questions Ezra has. We can’t wait to see what this author publishes next!
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Aviva Brown and her children converted to Judaism in 2017, but during the preceeding years of Jewish study, she noticed a lack of diversity among Jewish children’s literature. In late 2018, Aviva read a quote by author Beverly Cleary: If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it. So, she did.
In 2019, Aviva founded SpringLight Publishing to publish her books, with the goal of eventually publishing diverse picture books by other independent authors.
Aviva currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, two cats, and four wild animals who sometimes pretend they’re well-mannered children. When she’s not writing, editing, or reading diverse kidlit, she can be found hiding from housework (well, you can try, but she’s super good at hiding), eating popcorn, or singing show tunes.
Anastasia Kanavaliuk is hard to find on the internet! Her Instagram handle is here, and we think she’s so incredibly talented!
Happy Saturday! We are SO EXCITED to be able to feature this powerhouse, Aviva Brown! Aviva is one of the first people we “met” on Instagram when we started our account, and we’ve been keeping in regular contact ever since. Aviva is knowledgable, funny, and definitely not afraid to laugh at herself as she shares funny life situations on her entertaining Instagram stories. We are thrilled that she was able to publish her first book at the end of July, and see a shining bright future for her! We hope you enjoy reading this interview, but make sure that after you’re done you go outside and enjoy some of this end of summer warm weather.
This is actually the first of 3 posts around Aviva and her new book! Our next book review post on Tuesday is Ezra’s BIG Shabbat Question, and for our next Sound Off Saturday post, we were able to interview Aviva’s talented illustrator Anastasia! Whew, we have to go lie in a hammock for a bit, it’s getting too exciting around here 😉 Tiny Activists, out!
The Tiny Activist: Introduce yourself/your organization!
Aviva Brown: Hey, peeps! I’m Aviva Brown and I self-publish children’s picture books about Jewish kids of Color. I’ve been married to my incredible spouse for 12 years and we have four amazing children that get on our nerves, cover us in kisses, and make our lives…unpredictable. My oldest child is 11 and my youngest turns 1 in September. My children and I converted to Judaism in 2017, and my husband just finished his conversion in August 2019.
TTA: What are you passionate about?
AB: I’m passionate about so many things that I burned out on activism because I tried to do every. single. thing. These days I’ve limited my focus to two areas–finding, reading, reviewing, and creating books about diverse populations, and working on immigration issues.
I’m currently the chair of my synagogue’s Immigration Sub-Committee. We’ve held an ID drive for undocumented immigrants, which many businesses and the police department in our small city will recognize as legitimate identification. We partnered with a mostly Latinx Christian congregation for a program called Stranger 2 Neighbor, where we met several times in Fall 2018 to exchange information about our different cultures. It went so well, we’ve kept in touch and are planning a community service project this fall.
We also maintain an Immigration Relief Fund, which congregants donate to, and partner with a local organization, Faith Action International House, to provide monetary relief to families who have had family members detained by ICE. We’re also currently planning a trip this winter to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA.
TTA: Tell us about a project you’re currently working on!
AB: My first picture book, Ezra’s BIG Shabbat Question, was just released July 30th, so I’m currently working on getting it on peoples’ radar and selling it. I’ve also started work on my second book, Ora: Summer Camp Stowaway, already. My goal is to release it in spring 2020. I’m really excited to bring stories about Jews of Color to the children’s market. Kids need to see themselves in books so that they know they matter. That’s my mission.
TTA: How can people support you on your journey?
AB: The easiest way to support my journey would be to purchase copies of my book. Ha! However, I know that’s not possible for everyone. If you know someone who might be interested, though, tell them. Follow my social media accounts and help me build an audience of like-minded parents, grandparents, and educators who understand how important diversity is in kids books.
TTA: What book was your favorite in 2019 so far?
AB: My favorite children’s book this year is Lubna and Pebble. It’s about a little girl who lives in a refugee tent city where her pebble is her only friend. She eventually makes a human friend, and when it is time for her family to leave, she leaves Pebble with him. Such a sweet story.
TTA: What are you looking forward to in The coming year?
AB: If I can pull it off, I hope to release two books in 2020, and mentor other self-publishing authors. There were so many things I had to spend hours researching or learn on the fly. If I can save another writer that research time, hopefully more people will add their voices and stories to the kidlit world. We need them!
Happy Saturday! There’s a heat wave hitting us here in New England, so unless we venture to go swimming in the river later (which is also one of our favorite places to watch the sunset with a cold drink!) we will be inside all day! We are so stoked to feature Tyler this week, who is a dear friend of ours.
Lee and Tyler experienced the highs and lows of their late teens and early twenties together in the squalid co-cops of the University of Maryland and have been best buds ever since 2013!
The Tiny Activist: So we know who you are, but can you introduce yourself/your organization for our readers?
Tyler Vile: Hi! My name is Tyler Vile and I’m a writer, performer, and organizer from Baltimore, Maryland! I’m a founding member of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebel, a radically inclusive synagogue. I write poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and I’m trying to get back into screenwriting and playwriting, and I’m learning to write scripts for comic books. Hinenu formed officially in 2017, and we often get asked what it means to be a radically inclusive synagogue as opposed to just inclusive. The best answer I can come up with is that we have disabled Jews, queer and trans Jews, Jews of color, and converts in our leadership, and we make our decisions entirely democratically. Many progressive synagogues will pay lip service to marginalized people’s needs and issues, but at Hinenu, we’re the ones making the decisions. We’re looking to the future right now with conversations about childcare, Hebrew school, and increasing learning opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds. We pray together, we celebrate together, we protest together. It’s incredible to have seen this grow from a rough idea to where it is right now.
TTA:What are you passionate about?
TV: I’m passionate about so many things! Writing, of course, but also ritual, justice, human connection. My passions are a big motivator in my life. As a disabled person, it’s literally physically difficult to get out of bed sometimes. Everyone has to find that balance, that sweet spot between passion and rest. I have to remind myself all the time that it’s okay not to do everything I’m passionate about at once. Fear of missing out can be hard, but as long as you’re confident in what you’re doing long term, you don’t need to be at every show, every protest, or every event.
TTA:Tell us about a project you’re currently working on!
TV: Glad you asked! Right now, I’m working on a poetic reinterpretation of Bereshit (Genesis), the first book of the Torah. There’s so much in there that I think we take for granted. One thing I’ve learned in working with these ancient characters is that people really don’t change over thousands of years. There’s still jealousy, anger, hatred, and struggle, but there’s also still joy, humor, compassion, and liberation. I’m also working on a collection of sci-fi short stories about disabled characters and adaptive technology. I’ve always been a huge sci-fi fan and thought that we as disabled people live the most sci-fi lives, but we’re barely represented in the genre. When we are, it’s either as the villain or there’s a deus ex machina that fixes disability all together. I want to look at the consequences of “fixing” disability, the relationships we have with adaptive technology, and how disabled people are going to survive the climate crises that are headed our way.
TTA:How can people support you on your journey?
TV: You can make a tax deductible donation to Hinenuhere if you feel so moved. My personal Paypaland Venmoare always open if you’d like to donate to the work I’m doing. You can buy my first book, Never Coming Home. While monetary donations help, they aren’t everything. If you’d like to book me for a poetry reading, writing workshop, or panel appearance, my email is email@example.com. Other than that, be good to the people around you, support local artists and activists.
I think the world is going to be saved by small actions, small organizations, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Think globally, act locally. Leave the world a little better than when you came in. That way, we can all support each other.
TTA: What book was your favorite in 2019 so far?
TV: It has to be Making Spaces Safer by my friend Shawna Potter. Shawna’s in a band called War on Womenand is using her platform to make sure that public spaces are free from harassment and that everyone is afforded respect, dignity, and consent. I was a beta reader for that book and in offering feedback, I was blown away by how smoothly and directly she delivers some very necessary truths about the way we treat each other. I love the way she weaves other people’s narratives into the points she makes and invites readers to learn from what can go right as much as what can go wrong.
TTA: What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
TV: The Jewish New Year is right around the corner! September will be here faster than you think. It’s not just about celebration, although that’s a big part of it, it’s a whole season of self-reflection, forgiveness, and accountability. What I love about it is that it acknowledges that hardship and joy are equally likely and that even when we’ve made mistakes and missed the mark, we’re still worth it and can grow and change. So, I’m looking forward to growing, learning, working on my book and all the things I don’t even know I’m going to love yet!
Thanks so much for having me, I love you guys and I can’t wait until the next time we see each other!