Laden with information, this picture book introduces a fascinating, little-known population of black Jews who live in the mountains of Ethiopia. Schur (The Circlemaker; Hannah Szenes) takes readers through the various rituals performed by each segment of the community to prepare for the Sabbath. In meticulous detail, she describes food, chores, clothing, customs and activities, peppering the text with Ethiopian words and phrases. The sheer volume of information overwhelms and occasionally supplants traditional narrative; the value of this work lies in its economical evocation of an entire way of life, not in the telling of a specific tale. An author's note at the end explains the history and status of this small group, whose members call themselves Beta Israel, ``Those of the House of Israel,'' but who are known as strangers (``falashas'') to other Ethiopians. A glossary and pronunciation guide is also included. Pinkney's (see Dear Benjamin Banneker, reviewed above) signature scratchboard illustrations celebrate the African roots of the Beta Israel with affecting visual images that are startlingly at odds with more familiar depictions of more familiar Jewry. Ages 6-10. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5-Fascinating in its detail about one ethnic/religious group in Africa, this story also tells about one of the many ways in which Jews have traditionally lived. The book is visually appealing, with scratchboard illustrations that convey the beauty of the green and brown Ethiopian highlands and the Amharic-speaking people who live there. Facing pages are outlined in bright colors reminiscent of the borders of the shamma (cloth) they weave and wear. The story is simple and tenderly told. Menelik, 10, narrates the events and activities in his family on one day before a Sabbath and the observance that follows. As daily routines and conversations are recounted, readers learn about what the family eat, the crafts they engage in, their language, the difficulties of farming there, and above all, the importance of the Sabbath to them. The Africanness of Menelik's people is emphasized. They are richly brown in color; vigorous drums remind them that the Sabbath is about to arrive; their houses (unfortunately referred to as ``huts'') look like those throughout many parts of Africa. At the same time, the Sabbath theme and the service inside the mequrab (synagogue) discusses the Beta Israel, or ``Those of the House of Israel'' as the Ethiopian Jews call themselves, and their loyalty to their faith. The story is unique for this age group in its effective and empathetic portrayal of an endangered African culture. It is a gem.-Loretta Kreider Andrews, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore
Set in Ethiopia, this book not only explores how the Jewish Sabbath is celebrated in a far-flung land, but also gives us a glimpse of a vanishing cultural group, the Falasha, and their way of life. In a quiet, yet joyful story, Menelik, the son of a blacksmith, talks about the black Jews in his small community as they earn their living weaving, farming, and shaping iron tools and as they prepare for their Sabbath. Pinkney's sturdy, attractive painted scratchboard illustrations catch the reverence and the everyday detail without a hint of sentimentality. A fine choice for the multicultural shelf, this will also have children who celebrate Shabbat in the U.S. eagerly comparing their own holiday with Menelik's. A glossary and pronunciation guide are included, as is an author's note explaining Ethiopia's black Jewish population.