cover image The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew

The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew

Richard Michelson, illus. by Karla Gudeon. Charlesbridge, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58089-636-8

It isn’t easy being the child of a visionary. Ben-Zion’s father is Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, a man determined to revive Hebrew as a living, everyday language—even though most of his fellow Jews in 19th-century Jerusalem accuse him of sacrilege and are content speaking Yiddish or the languages of their native lands. Eliezer insists on raising Ben-Zion as the first native speaker of modern Hebrew, which makes for tense family moments and a lonely childhood. But gradually, father and son persuade other children that speaking Hebrew might not be such a bad idea, and that they can have a hand in building the language “word by word.” Gudeon (Grandma’s Wedding Album) turns Hebrew letters and words into graphic elements that dance across the pages and frame the text, although it’s not enough to counter the wooden feel of her vignettes. But Michelson (Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy) knows how to turn a complex story into both a brain tickler (how do you invent a word for “ice cream” or bicycle”?) and a compelling emotional journey. Endnotes provide additional context, including where Michelson’s story diverges from the historical record. Ages 5–9. (Feb.)