In this illustrated, rhyming children’s book, a nearly 13-year-old Jewish girl portrays her family and religious traditions as she readies to join a minyan.
The unnamed girl who narrates this story lives in a town with only one shul (synagogue) that isn’t always full, so forming a minyan—a group of 10 adults, required in Judaism to make a quorum for communal worship—can sometimes be difficult. The girl’s father goes to the shul every morning with his worn tallis, a prayer shawl, and his tefillin, a set of leather boxes containing scrolls with verses from the Torah. (The book includes a glossary that defines words that may be unfamiliar.) But sometimes there are not quite enough people to form a minyan, so the girl looks forward to joining it when she’s old enough in less than a year. The girl explains more about the shul and the prayers, and how her zayde (grandfather) joins the family on Shabbos (the Sabbath day, which starts on Friday night) before going to the shul with her father. When her zayde dies, people gather at the house, making another minyan for prayers. One morning, the girl’s father announces that it’s time for her to join. She protests she’s too young, but “ ‘Your Hebrew birthday,’ he said with a smile, / ‘began at sundown—it’s been here awhile!’ ” Her father allays her anxieties and gives her zayde’s tallis and tefillin. At last, “Papa smiled proudly—he teared up again. / Then, grinning, he told me, ‘Today, you make ten.’ ” Kline (Josiah’s Dreams, 2014) portrays the girl’s coming-of-age and her being counted among her shul’s adults with great warmth, and also highlights her closeness to beloved Papa. The girl’s mother plays almost no role in the story, which is a little puzzling, but the shul looks joyful, with Simon’s (No Rules for Michael, 2003, etc.) illustrations showing a kind, friendly, welcoming community with the people drawn in comfortably rounded shapes; in appearance, they appear to come from diverse Ashkenazi and Sephardic backgrounds. However, the highlights on the girl’s dark hair make it look gray and elderly, which may be confusing. Also, the usual young audience for a picture book doesn’t seem best suited for a tween’s story.
A warmhearted introduction to coming-of-age in a worship community.