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Sam I Am

Sam I Am

by Ilene Cooper

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When Sam realizes his interfaith parents can't figure out how to celebrate the holidays, he turns to God for answers. An insightful and often hilarious story--now in paperback.

Twelve-year-old Sam Goodman knows the holidays are going to be difficult when his dog knocks over the Hanukkah bush/Christmas tree. His Jewish father and Christian mother have never quite


When Sam realizes his interfaith parents can't figure out how to celebrate the holidays, he turns to God for answers. An insightful and often hilarious story--now in paperback.

Twelve-year-old Sam Goodman knows the holidays are going to be difficult when his dog knocks over the Hanukkah bush/Christmas tree. His Jewish father and Christian mother have never quite figured out how to celebrate both holidays, and when the tree goes down, their resentments, simmering for so long, boil over. His older sister and younger brother don't seem to have any solutions for the family's predicament; his best friend Avi seems to know who he is as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah; his secret crush, Heather, knows who she is and who she wants to associate with.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cooper's (Jewish Holidays All Year 'Round) thoughtful if belabored novel centers on 12-year-old Sam, with a Jewish father and Christian mother, who feels caught in the middle-especially this holiday season. Since the family dog has pulled down the Christmas tree (or "Hanukkah bush," as his father insists they call it), presents will be arranged around the menorah, for the first time putting more emphasis on Hanukkah than Christmas. On Christmas Eve, which coincides with the first day of Hanukkah, Sam witnesses the clashing traditions of his feuding Jewish and Christian grandmothers, and he decides to ask God something that has been plaguing him: "What I want to know is, why can't people practicing different religions get along?" This question assumes greater proportions when Sam's class begins studying the Holocaust ("How could You let this happen?" he asks God), and when the boy learns they had a relative who was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. In a rather strained subplot, Sam becomes smitten with Heather, a classmate he thinks is "cute," but whose mean-spiritedness (he finally realizes) is rooted in racism. Although the narrative becomes encumbered by some rather pointed exposition and repetitious discussion, Cooper introduces a likable young protagonist and raises some searching questions about tolerance, injustice, commitment to religion and communicating with God. Ages 9-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Twelve-year-old Sam finds the month of December a bit confusing: His mother, who is Christian, and his father, who is Jewish, are divided on the issues of religion and holidays. This year, the Hanukkah Bush is knocked over by the family dog, and the family sees it as a sign for change and compromise. Both grandmothers get an invitation to a religion-neutral holiday, but the fondue does not make anyone happy. Sam has many questions: Does he have to choose a specific religion? Will his parents and grandmothers hate him if he chooses the wrong one? Does Heather like him? No twelve-year-old can have all the answers, except Sam does find out his crush is not as wonderful as he first thought when she makes a racist comment about the Jewish religion and the Holocaust unit they are studying in school. Cooper accurately portrays an interfaith family. This family has arguments, confusion, questions, and no easy answers. Neither does the book, which is refreshingly honest. She is also quite accurate in her portrayal of twelve-year-olds and their emotions, questions, and, almost certainly, first crushes. 2004, Scholastic, 252 pp., Ages young adult.
—Jennifer Judy
Children's Literature
The Goodman's Christmas tree (also known as the "Hanukah bush") has come crashing down. So, too, has the peace about religion that has existed in their household. Mrs. Goodman, a Christian, opts not to put back up the tree and starts attending church services weekly. Mr. Goodman, a Jew, suggests the family celebrate Hanukah and begins to visit his mother on Sundays. The Goodman children, including twelve-year-old Sam, are caught in the crossfire. Sam, especially, has a lot of questions about religion. His best friend, Avi, is preparing for his bar mitzvah, and Sam knows that he would be doing the same if he were Jewish. Their seventh grade class is beginning a unit on the Holocaust, and Sam discovers that he, too, would have been targeted by the Nazis. Personally, he does not understand how religion can divide people like his mom and his dad or his two grandmothers. Why does religion cause discord? Why can't people practicing different religions get along? On a larger scale, he is deeply troubled by the Holocaust. How did it happen? Where was God? Sam is searching for the answers—both for himself and his family. Ilene Cooper portrays Sam with sense and sensitivity. He is a believable, insightful character dealing with common adolescent issues such as friendship and dating even as he struggles with the larger issues of religion and family. There are no easy answers in this book—as there shouldn't be. 2004, Scholastic, Ages 10 to 14.
—Heidi Hauser Green
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Pluto the dog knocks down the family's Christmas tree (known as a Hanukkah bush in the Goodman household) and the question of religion makes a sudden and unwelcome appearance. Dad is Jewish; Mom is Episcopalian; and the three kids, Ellen, Sam, and Maxie, have been brought up pretty much with no religion. When Dad suggests they celebrate Hanukkah this year, things become very tense, a situation exacerbated by the two grandmothers, who cordially loathe one another. Once the holidays limp to a close, the issue of religion continues to torment 12-year-old Sam. His mother suggests he try talking to God, but God doesn't seem to be answering. When his class begins a unit on the Holocaust and he starts talking to various adults about it, his confusion and unhappiness grows. A secondary plot about Sam's interest in a shallow girl is woven into the narrative. After a promising beginning, the story turns into an examination of the role of religion in the modern American family. Sam is a likable kid, and a fairly reliable narrator, although at times he sounds much older than his 12 years. No grand conclusions are reached-the parties involved agree to disagree and let the kids make their own decisions when they grow up, which is what they were doing in the first place.-Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sam's home life and holiday spirit are disrupted when the family dog knocks over the "Hanukkah bush," breaking his mother's childhood Christmas ornaments and triggering a buried religious resentment between his parents. Sam, his sister, and brother have never been given clear direction concerning religious faith or identity, as their non-practicing Jewish father, always uncomfortable with any religion his Christian wife encourages, compromises with combined holiday celebrations. This brings Sam confusion and a need to understand the reasons behind various religions and their customs. Jewish friend Avi-who is studying for his Bar Mitzvah-and a holocaust school assignment provide an eye-opening view to Judaism while the rift between his grandmothers only adds to his feelings of discomfort. Sam's angst is drawn out and lags, even as his concerns are woven with some humor into the life of a typical pre-adolescent boy's first experiences with girls, parties, and school issues. A realistic, unresolved ending allows parents and children of this mixed family to decide their individual religious needs, but the overall conflict overshadows the subplots that could be more intriguing. (Fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Apple Signature Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

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