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The Always Prayer Shawl

The Always Prayer Shawl

by Sheldon Oberman

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"Some things change. And some things don't."

That simple truth, whispered in a synagogue, echoes throughout this deeply felt picture book. Adam, a young Jewish boy in czarist Russia, must flee his ancestral home at the outbreak of the revolution. Before he sets sail for a new land, his grandfather gives him a prayer shawl that was handed to him by his own


"Some things change. And some things don't."

That simple truth, whispered in a synagogue, echoes throughout this deeply felt picture book. Adam, a young Jewish boy in czarist Russia, must flee his ancestral home at the outbreak of the revolution. Before he sets sail for a new land, his grandfather gives him a prayer shawl that was handed to him by his own grandfather, who was also named Adam. And so the life of Adam and his prayer shawl unfolds from time past to time present, when Adam has a grandson of his own. Some things change and some things don't. Sheldon Oberman's picture book about the strength of tradition and the passing of generations is given powerful expression in Ted Lewin's atmospheric illustrations.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Oberman's ( Lion in the Lake ) simply told and moving story invokes the power of tradition. Adam is a Jewish boy growing up in czarist Russia, where his grandfather, also named Adam, teaches him the importance of Jewish beliefs and customs, stressing that ``some things change and some things don't.'' Without distancing the reader, comparisons crystallize the differences between Adam's time and the present: ``When Adam went for eggs, he did not get them from a store. He got them from a chicken. When Adam felt cold, he did not turn a dial for heat. He chopped wood for a fire.'' When Adam and his parents emigrate, Adam's grandfather gives his prayer shawl to the boy, who responds with a promise: ``I am always Adam and this is my always prayer shawl. That won't change.'' In America, Adam learns to live, dress and speak differently. The prayer shawl changes, too--first the fringe is replaced, then the collar and finally the cloth. But, as Adam is to explain to his own grandson, ``It is still my Always Prayer Shawl.'' As a tender conclusion brings Adam's spiritual life full circle, Lewin underscores the cyclical theme by picturing the grandson as very like the young Adam. His realistic watercolors dynamically depict the Old World in black and white, changing to color as Adam grows up, and his affecting portraits match the quiet passion of Oberman's prose. Ages 7-up. (Feb.)
Children's Literature - Rivkah Y. Lambert
This is a heart-warming story about a tallis (Jewish prayer shawl) that passes through many generations in one family. The story opens with black and white illustrations of life in a Russian shtetl (Jewish village) about 100 years ago. As the story progresses, the black and white drawings are replaced by high-quality full-color illustrations reflecting contemporary American life. The continuity of religion and steadfastness in family life are the intertwined themes. As different parts of the tallis wear out they are replaced, but the tallis remains "the always prayer shawl", thus signifying Jewish continuity.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
One thing that never changes is the beauty and tradition of Jewish family's prayer shawl. Young Adam is given his grandfather's prayer shawl when he leaves Czarist Russia for the U.S. Wrapped in the warmth of this special shawl each generation of Adams remembers the traditions and heritage that permeates the shawl. Lewin's enchanting pictures capture the passage of time in black & white and then color. The panorama of the historic scenes vividly recreate the time period while the color and intimacy of the contemporary period presents characters out of a family's photo album.
Children's Literature - Dia L. Michels
The Always Prayer Shawl is a gentle, sweet book about how some things in life change, while others don't. It introduces us to Adam, a child in a small Russian village whose grandfather, Adam's namesake, teaches him Jewish traditions. Soon, though, Adam and his parents emigrate to escape the growing hostility toward Jews ( leaving forever their homeland and Adam's grandfather. At their departure, the grandfather presents Adam with the prayer shawl that he had received from his grandfather. Settling into their new home, everything was different for Adam - except for the prayer shawl he wore every Shabbat. Adam matures and has his own family, but maintains his Jewish customs, and in the family tradition, he, too, has a grandson named Adam. Time changes, politics change, homes change, and people change, but the Adam's prayer shawl always stays the same. The illustrations are moving and cleverly support the message of the text. 1997 (orig.
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Hanukkah is often compared with Christmas because it is a present-giving holiday. Parents who want to give books might consider selecting some that celebrate the spirit of Judaism all year long. This book is perfect for older picture book readers. It is the story of a young Russian boy who emigrates and continually restores his prayer shawl and his faith.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-When Adam, a young boy growing up in Czarist Russia, emigrates to the United States with his family, his grandfather gives him the prayer shawl that his grandfather had given him. Throughout his life, Adam continues to wear and repair the shawl, hanging on to his grandfather's statement that "`Everything about it has changed. But it is still my Always Prayer Shawl. It is just like me. I have changed and changed and changed. But I am still Adam.'" He explains to his own grandson the story behind the shawl, and the young boy pledges to carry on the tradition of naming a son Adam and passing the heirloom on to him. The book effectively illustrates how different life was for a child growing up in Russia than it is for modern children. The major theme that some things change while others never do is worth exploring, but the story leaves little to the imagination and hammers the message home. Non-Jewish children may wonder what makes the prayer shawl so special; Oberman never explains its use in worship. Lewin's paintings feature gracefully drawn figures that look especially good at a distance. But at times, the pictures fail to convey the full range of emotion described in the narrative, such as in the scene in which Adam says good-bye to his grandfather. Additionally, it seems almost arbitrary that the black-and-white illustrations change to lushly colored watercolors when Adam becomes an adult. When books about family traditions, especially those of Jewish people, are needed, this one will suffice, with the help of an adult who can answer the anticipated questions.- Ellen Fader, Oregon State Library, Salem
Stephanie Zvirin
In a quiet story with just the right touch of sentimentality, Oberman beautifully evokes a sense of continuity across generations. Enhancing his third-person narrative with a smattering of dialogue, he tells of the Jewish boy Adam, growing up in a shtetl, whose life drastically changes when famine and chaos in old Russia force his parents to immigrate to America. At parting, Adam's beloved grandfather gives the boy a gift, a prayer shawl ("my always prayer shawl"), which was presented to the grandfather by "his" grandfather, for whom Adam was named. Lewin's first paintings, in black and white, show the white-bearded grandfather in the shtetl, the soldiers with their guns, the tall buildings in America dramatically dwarfing Adam and his parents. Then, in one double-page spread that telescopes Adam's growing into manhood, the artwork leaps into glorious color. While Oberman's controlled text capsulizes the passage of time in words, the color paintings show Adam the man proudly wearing his Russian grandfather's shawl, then Adam the grandfather, passing the shawl and what it represents on to his own young grandson. As good as any of Lewin's best work, the watercolors are abundantly detailed and wonderfully expressive (the grandfathers and grandsons are at once different and the same). The pictures enrich the tranquil telling, which harks back to the biblical Adam, as it movingly depicts how memory and tradition add texture and richness to our lives--even as other things around us change.

Product Details

Highlights Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.68(w) x 11.36(h) x 0.39(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Sheldon Oberman's books include By the Hanukkah Light, The Wisdom Bird, and Lion in the Lake, a French-English alphabet book that won the silver medal at the Leipzig International Children's Book Fair.

Ted Lewin has illustrated more than one hundred books for children and also wrote an autobiography entitled I Was a Teenage Professional Wrestler. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Betsy, who also illustrates children's book.

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