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This entry in an ever-expanding alphabet series presents a facet of Jewish tradition for each letter. Large, colorful illustrations are accompanied by short rhymes and prose sidebars with additional information. The rhymes are uneven in quality and do not always scan well. They often require knowledge of Jewish life to be understood. The sidebars provide background and context to fill in these gaps, but even so, the information is limited and broadly simplified, and the book will best be appreciated by those familiar with Judaism. As in many such alphabet books, the facts are somewhat random. The author introduces an assortment of holiday customs, biblical or other famous Jewish figures, and cultural elements like klezmer music. Despite many references to Israel, the book has an American point of view; the letter "U" represents "U.S. of A. where half the world's Jews are living today." The luminous illustrations are the book's best feature. The realistic paintings show expressive individuals often captured in quiet moments of emotion. The modern scenes depict mainstream white American Jews with whom many non-Orthodox readers can identify. This is a solid choice for identity-building and education in Jewish settings, and it could be used to introduce Judaism if interpreted by a knowledgeable facilitator and combined with other titles.-Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL
Posted September 9, 2009
In today's world where we shun anything that isn't new and improved, it is good to know that some traditions still hold meaning. A is for Abraham, an alphabet book by Richard Michelson, familiarizes us with Jewish traditions of the past, while reminding us of why those values still resonant in our modern world. The Jewish tenets of integrity, fairness, honesty, and affirmation of family are warmly recalled in A is for Abraham.
Michelson highlights a wide range of historical and religious topics. The book addresses everything from Bar and Bat Mitzvahs to Moses and Einstein. Each page begins with a letter of the alphabet followed by a word beginning with that letter. The text uses a combination of poetry and narrative to explain in detail the meaning of the word and its significance to present day life. Michelson's first entry, Abraham, tells how Jews, Muslims, and Christians all share the same spiritual ancestor. After this acknowledgment, Michelson continues the alphabet format while examining specific Jewish customs that make the religion distinctive. Michelson captures the positive values inherent in Judaism, explaining how King David's love of music and poetry is still honored by contemporary Jews and is reflected by the likes of Dylan, Bernstein, Rogers, and Gershwin. In another text, Michelson strives to be inclusive by noting, "Observant Jews follow strict rules about what foods (and food combinations) they are permitted to eat." By adding this statement, the reader understands that not all Jews adhere to a strict interpretation of the Bible - some keep kosher; some don't.
For the letter "H" Michelson chooses the word Hebrew, and with this word he weaves a story that connects two lands where Jews found freedom: America and Israel. Michelson recites the Israeli Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." Every child will be inspired by these words. The best part of this book is that Michelson doesn't talk down to his audience; he values children by offering details and encouraging them to think.
The illustrations, by Ron Mazellan, are subtle, yet affective. His rendering of Noah's ark is done in brilliant hues, depicting two birds with capricious expressions that will make the reader smile. In another illustration, the blue wall of the synagogue against a backdrop of blue sky exude a sense of calm and reflection. The art perfectly complements the narrative.
Read, enjoy, learn.
Quill says: Chalked full of information about the history of the Jewish people in alphabet format.