cover image Rifka Takes a Bow

Rifka Takes a Bow

Betty Rosenberg Perlov, illus. by Cosei Kawa. Kar-Ben, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7613-8128-0

Rifka lives in early 20th-century New York City with her glamorous, devoted parents, who are stars of the Yiddish theater. She marvels at the transformations that they undergo and revels in backstage life, with its dressing rooms filled with makeup, ribbons, and beads; its clever props (ketchup for blood, tea for whiskey); and even its rules for how to perform a kiss (“The man holds the girl’s head between his hands, and he kisses his thumbs”). When Rifka accidentally ends up on stage during a performance, she blanches only for a minute—the theater is in truly in her blood. As the afterword notes, Perlov’s childhood was the model for Rifka’s, but this story is more about the magic of theater in general than about Yiddish theatre in particular. Similarly, Kawa’s dreamy pictures, with their skewed perspectives and fanciful characterizations, make some references to Jewish life, but are more interested in pretend play writ large. Readers will get little sense of Yiddish theater’s distinctive emotional flamboyance or cultural relevancy, though the afterword offers some historical details. Ages 5–9. (Sept.)