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A Concert in the Sand

Tami Shem-Tov and Rachella Sandbank, illus. by Avi Ofer. Kar-Ben, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5124-0099-1

Uri is bored hanging out in his parents’ Tel Aviv delicatessen, so he follows his grandmother on what he thinks is an idle stroll. Grandma has a purpose in mind; she just can’t tell Uri, because she speaks only German. The pair becomes part of an exuberant, ever-growing procession through the city, led by a group of people “with funny shaped cases”; when they arrive at an auditorium, Uri realizes that Grandma has brought him to an important concert. “The notes enter my ears, and go straight to my heart,” says Uri, as Grandma cries “tears of happiness.” This lightly fictionalized tale has a wonderful, true backstory: in December 1936, a group of musicians, all Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, gave the first performance of what became the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. Ofer’s fluid watercolor-and-ink cartooning is celebratory and cinematic as the crowd makes its way through the busy metropolis. But Shem-Tov and Sandbank’s wordy text spends too much time ineffectively building suspense and not enough on giving readers any of the dramatic and poignant context; it’s not until the afterword that the event’s full significance is revealed. Ages 4–9. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Life on Mars

Jon Agee. Dial, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-53852-0

Dramatic irony rules this expedition to Mars, in which a young human roams the rocky environment, unaware that he is not alone. The sky is black, the landscape the color of dust. The frowning boy astronaut, who carries an incongruous white box tied with red string, delivers a dejected monologue: “It’s dark. It’s cold. I’ve brought this gift of chocolate cupcakes. I don’t think I’ll find anybody to eat them.” He fails to notice the pear-shaped, cantaloupe-orange creature—20 times his size—who is following and observing him. Agee’s (Lion Lessons) quirky humor manifests in absurd elements such as the cupcake box, which the boy temporarily misplaces, and the anxious Martian, who pretends to be a hill when the astronaut loses sight of his rocket: “I bet I’ll get a good view from the top of that mountain!” says the boy, unwittingly climbing the creature. The boy’s discovery of a yellow flower confirms his speculation about “life on Mars,” though he never notices the elephant in the room. It’s satisfying silliness from start to finish, with a gotcha ending that will prompt requests for repeat readings. Ages 4–8. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Under the Sabbath Lamp

Michael Herman, illus. by Alida Massari. Kar-Ben, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5124-0841-6

Izzy and Olivia Bloom, a charming older couple, are welcomed into their new neighbors’ homes for Shabbat dinners, and then host a Friday night dinner of their own. But when the guests arrive, they’re puzzled to find that the Blooms don’t own a pair of Shabbat candlesticks; instead the Blooms have an old and beautiful star-shaped Shabbat lamp, which hangs from ceiling and burns olive oil. The story behind the lamp, shared by Izzy, encompasses shtetl life, the Jewish immigrant experience, and one family’s determination “to be whole again” after a long separation; it also prompts the Blooms’ guests to appreciate anew their own cherished Shabbat artifacts. “We’ve all inherited treasures,” Izzy observes. Herman, making his debut, builds a lovely tale around an unusual piece of Judaica (further explained in an afterword) and a close-knit community of Jewish families where Shabbat is an essential part of the week, joyfully observed and shared. The golden hues of Massari’s images reflect both the light of the Shabbat lamp and the generous emotional warmth radiating from her characters and their inviting homes. Ages 3–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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This & That

Mem Fox, illus. by Judy Horacek. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-338-03780-7

For times when a single bedtime story just isn’t enough, the duo behind Where Is the Green Sheep? and Good Night, Sleep Tight tease several at once in this chirpy, repetition-driven tale that hopscotches from one adventure to the next. “I’ll tell you a story of this,/ and I’ll tell you a story of that,” Fox begins. “I’ll tell you a story of cavernous caves/ and a chimp with a magic hat.” In Horacek’s accompanying scenes, watery washes of color and jittery black lines follow two mice—one large, one small—as they float down a river in a bright green box, past bat-filled caves and the magic-making chimpanzee, before tumbling over a waterfall. From there, the mice ride an elephant through a busy marketplace and steal away in a carriage to a palace where royals from around the world cavort. Fox knows how to structure a lively readaloud, and she builds gentle suspense between each bouncy stanza with a repeated “And then...” The cozy ending, sealed with a good night kiss, might be just enough to convince kids that it is indeed bedtime. Ages 3–5. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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