No strife necessary: Readers will be content just to have met Bubbe and Naomi.

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BUBBE'S BELATED BAT MITZVAH

Is serenity a narrative problem?

Bubbe can’t remember how many kippot she’s made. She’s 95, and she’s crocheted a skullcap for every bar and bat mitzvah and wedding in her family. Her great-granddaughter Naomi thinks it’s time for Bubbe to have a bat mitzvah ceremony of her own. In some books, this would be a source of tension. Bubbe might struggle with the religious texts. She might argue with people who think a religious service should be led by a man. But this is a book with no conflict. Bubbe decides to learn Hebrew, and she does. Some readers might prefer a book with less harmony and tranquility, and less sedate pacing. But it seems uncharitable, somehow, to wish any struggle or pain on Naomi and her Bubbe, whose account of her descendants’ coming-of-age ceremonies is something of a thumbnail history of the evolution of the role of women in Judaism. Cis’ illustrations are so expressive that Bubbe’s eyes, captured in a few strokes of paint, instantly make her seem both wise and kind. On the day of the bat mitzvah, all the family members are wearing matching kippot, crocheted by Naomi. This is the exact opposite of conflict, and if it’s a little dull, it’s dull in the most satisfying way possible.

No strife necessary: Readers will be content just to have met Bubbe and Naomi. (Picture book. 3-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4677-1949-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kar-Ben

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Sincere and wholehearted.

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I PROMISE

The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A thoughtfully layered text and powerful illustrations address this sensitive topic in a uniquely nurturing way.

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SULWE

With the help of a legend about Day and Night, a dark-skinned black child learns that she is beautiful inside and out.

Sulwe is “the color of midnight,” the darkest in her multihued family, and is teased in school. She tries everything to lighten her skin: an eraser, makeup, eating light foods, prayer. Her mother tells her she is beautiful and that her name, Sulwe, or “star,” refers to an inner brightness, but she can’t see it in herself. Then a shooting star comes to her window, sent by the night, and brings Sulwe out to tell her about Night and Day, two sisters who loved each other but were treated differently. When Night left after people called her names like “scary,” “bad,” and “ugly,” the people realized that they needed her. The stars added that “some light can only be seen in the dark.” After learning how Night and Day are both needed, Sulwe knows that she is “dark and beautiful, bright and strong.” Harrison’s glossy illustrations faithfully render the features of black people, allowing the beauty of different skin tones to shine, with deep purple tones in the darkness, reinforcing the story’s message. In an author’s note, Nyong’o shares her own past struggles with her complexion.

A thoughtfully layered text and powerful illustrations address this sensitive topic in a uniquely nurturing way. (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2536-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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