Tag Archive: religion


patchwork torah

The Patchwork Torah by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Elsa Oriol

David’s grandfather was a scribe.   He had been asked by the rabbi to write a new Torah for their synagogue because the old one was fading.  David watched his grandfather work for a year on the new Torah and then store it away, explaining that a Torah is not something to be thrown out.  Years later, as David was learning to be a scribe from his grandfather, a couple came to them bringing a Torah that they had hidden from the Nazis.  It was badly water damaged and his grandfather tucked that Torah away too in the hopes of working on it someday.  David grew up to be a scribe and inherited his grandfather’s cabinet with the two scrolls inside.  One day, the rabbi called and told him that there had been a fire in the synagogue and the Torah was damaged.  That scroll too was put away.  Finally, Katrina hit New Orleans and a Torah was rescued but damaged too.  David suddenly had an idea and worked for months to take the four scrolls and patch them together into one complete Torah that would be unlike any other.

Ofanansky builds this story slowly and steadily.  Each Torah comes into the book with a full story and history.  Each is unique and ruined in some way, but worthy of being rescued and reused.  It is the ultimate in recycling.  The book also pays homage to the long history of scribes who care for and create Torah, showing the dedication that it takes to learn the art and skill. 

The art by Oriol has a quiet nature too.  The paintings are suffused in yellow light and warmth.  Even the days of the tragedies that happen to the people and the Torah are light-filled and hope filled. 

A quiet and powerful story about renewal and reuse, this book speaks across religions to the importance of hard work and resilience.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

engines of the broken world

Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee

Merciful’s mother has finally died.  After years of growing more and more confused and cruel, she died as the weather grew colder and colder.  Merciful and her brother Gospel had wanted to bury her properly but the bitter weather had worsened and prevented them from digging a hole.  The snow came too, lashing the windows and keeping them from even venturing out to the barn to check on the animals.  So they put their mother under the table and went to bed.  The Minister, in an animal form, said prayers over her but was also firm in saying that she needed a proper burial.  Merciful is starting breakfast the next morning when she hears it, a voice she thought she would never hear again, singing her childhood song.

This novel is completely unique.  It is the story not of a post-apocalyptic world but of the days leading directly into an apocalypse.  Yet it is also a book that explores religion in a way that will certainly bother many people.  This is a religion beyond decay, heading into the final days, one that is flagging but still powerful.  Even better, it is one that is familiar to many of us.  Now add zombies to this complex world, and you are starting to understand why this book is so difficult to explain.

Against this dire setting, we have two young characters Merciful and Gospel.  The two do not get along, both approaching the world from different places.  Yet given the claustrophobic setting, the two are forced to see the truth about each other and their strengths.  It is this setting of a blizzard at the end of the world that makes this book so haunting.  Vanhee writes in a voice that we haven’t heard before either, he tinkers with perception of the characters, and he has created a book where you can’t trust much at all.  It is a wonderfully slippery book, that changes underneath you and turns into something unexpected.  Yet it is also filled with moments of great beauty and character. 

A horror book for teens, this is also something much more.  It is a beautifully written apocalypse that is harrowing, striking and powerful.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

deep in the sahara

Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

Released October 8, 2013.

Lalla wants to wear a malafa just like the other women in her family do.  Lalla tells her mother she wants to be beautiful just like her, but her mother says that a malafa is about more than beauty.  Lalla tells her sister that she wants to be mysterious just like her, but her sister says that a malafa is about more than mystery.  Seeing all of the women in their malafa, Lalla tells her cousin that she wants to be like all of them, but she replies that a malafa is more than that.  Her grandmother too says that a malafa is about more than tradition.  Finally, Lalla goes back to her mother and explains that she wants to be able to pray like her mother does.  Her mother agrees, saying “A malafa is for faith."  And the two face east and pray together in their malafa.

Set in Mauritania, this book celebrates the Muslim faith in a very beautiful way.  Written in the second person, readers are invited to see themselves as Lalla and learn about her faith and her world.  Cunnane writes beautiful descriptions of both the malafa themselves and also the community where Lalla lives.  There are donkeys, camels, and other exotic things, but Cunnane goes deeper than that and paints a world with pink houses shaped like cakes and silver heels that click on tiles.

Hadadi’s art is jewel toned and filled with details.  She has created a warm and loving community for Lalla to explore with the reader.  The beauty of the malafa are shown, the colors of the rooms, and the tangible love of an extended family.

An accessible and beautiful look at a Muslim community that dazzles.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.

longest night

The Longest Night: A Passover Story by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Catia Chien

This Passover picture book tells the story of the Exodus from the point of view of a young slave girl.  Readers first get a sense of the harsh environment and difficult lives of the Jewish people: the heat, the hard labor, the slavery.  Then come the plagues, one after another.  Finally there is the Exodus itself, the thrill and fear of fleeing in the darkness.  And finally, the miracle of the sea splitting in two, giving them safe passage away from Egypt. 

Written in rhyme, Snyder has created a book filled with rhythm and a story that moves swiftly along through the different parts of the Exodus.  Her choice of telling the story from the point of view of a child makes the story all the more personal and dramatic. 

Chien’s illustrations are just as dramatic with their deep color palette.  Especially moving are the natural moments, when the little girl finds openness and freedom in the world around her, though she can’t find it personally.  At these moments, the sky is huge and beautiful, but quickly the grit and sand return. 

A powerful and lovely exploration of the Old Testament tale of the Exodus given a fresh and personal aspect.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.

under the baobab tree

Under the Baobab Tree by Julie Stiegemeyer, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Brother and sister, Moyo and Japera, travel to a neighboring village to gather under the baobab tree, the tree of life.  Different people gather under the baobab at different times.  Sometimes the market wagon is there selling pots, pans and cloths.  Other times, the elders are gathered there talking.  Sometimes it’s a storyteller sharing stories.  As the children walk to the tree, they see all sorts of wildlife like weaver birds, gazelle, and a termite mound.  The siblings reach the baobab tree and more and more people join them, along with the minister and his Bible for church under the tree.

The setting of this book is clear from the very moment you open it.  For some people, from reading the title.  The setting stays true throughout the story, as details about Africa are woven into the story.  The children pass all sorts of creatures as they travel.  The different people under the baobab tree are shared in detail as well.  Clues about what will happen under the tree today are also shared in the text, so religion is tied nicely throughout as well.

Lewis’ art really make this book appealing.  He uses soft lines and almost gauzy colors to tell the story.  The watercolors seem to shimmer in the heat of Africa.  At times there is clarity in the images and great detail, other times the reader is moved further back and the scene itself is captured in its vastness and heat.

A picture book that embraces religion with a gentle touch, this book is a heartfelt welcome to Africa.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

obsidian blade

The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman

This is the dazzling first book in a new trilogy by veteran author, Hautman.  It is the story of Tucker, a teen boy from Hopewell, Minnesota who sees his minister father suddenly disappear into a disk that hangs in mid-air.  His father returns an hour later, changed.   He looks older, his clothes are worn, and his feet are covered in odd blue boots.   But the most significant change is that he no longer believes in God.  After his father returns, Tucker’s mother begins a slow descent into madness.  She stops cooking, stops getting dressed, and her hair turns from red to pure white.  Tucker longs to return to the days when his family was not falling apart, but before he can even begin to hope for that, his father disappears with his mother.  Tucker knows they have both entered the disk again, looking for a cure for her.  This book blends family relationships, technology, time travel and religion into one intoxicating mixture that is impossible to sip slowly.

This book would definitely be categorized as science fiction, but that definition does not fit quite so easily here.  With its detailed look at modern life and families, the audacity with which it explores faith and religion, and the wrenching take on modern technologies, this book is far more than that narrow genre might imply.  Hautman has created a work that transcends simple definition, reaching quickly beyond them. 

Hautman whirls readers through time, creating places that read like Narnia, others that seem more like an Indiana Jones film, and then slows down to take in the crucifixion.   It is a trip through our shared past and future, dancing back and forth across the line until the reader is unsure which is which.  Hautman excels at asking impertinent questions, taking great risks, and exploring the lines that teens themselves like to toy with. 

The book is beautifully written.  The character of Tucker is well done, though others may need time in the upcoming books to come more fully to life.  The book is plotted tightly, picking up pace until by the end, you simply cannot read fast enough to figure things out.  And the final trick is the end of this first book, which is just like stepping through a diskos of your own.  

A triumph of a first book in a series, this reminds me strongly of the wonder of Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness.  I’d suggest getting it into the hands of teens who enjoyed that series which had the same complexity both in terms of storyline and ethics.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

brother sun sister moon

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Pamela Dalton

Acclaimed author, Katherine Paterson has reworked a hymn of praise first said by Saint Francis of Assisi.  It praises God for our Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and Sister Stars.  Brother Wind and Brother Air are praised for being both harsh and mild.  Sister Water is thanked for being life-giving and Brother Fire is thanked for both warmth and playfulness.  The song of praise moves through Death as well, thanking God for the days we are given and the love that we are ushered into at death.  It is a universal prayer made joyous through Paterson’s changes to Saint Francis’ original version, which is included at the end of the book.

The delicacy of Paterson’s writing is not apparent until her words are compared with the original.  She has carefully teased deeper meaning from his words.  At the same times she has made them more appropriate for young readers and listeners.  The hymn of praise sings as she has written it, endowed with a new grace thanks to her skill.

Dalton’s illustrations are simply exquisite.  Using a cut paper technique that involves delicate knife work, watercolor painting, and then a process of being steeped in coffee, the result is luminous yet rustic.  It suits this subject matter perfectly, managing to be beautiful but not too lofty.

This is a magnificent selection for libraries’ religious shelves, one that will speak to people of many faiths and is phenomenally appealing and beautiful.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Also reviewed by:

You can see Dalton create her art in the video below:

31eb2oFeyHL._SS500_

Hush by Eishes Chayil

Gittel lives in the closed Chassidic community of Borough Park in New York City.  The rules of the Chassidic community are strict and clear.  Their lives are separate from modern technologies and a modern lifestyle.  Family is to be honored and respected.  Marriages are arranged by matchmakers and parents.  Children are treasured, but live with strict limitations.  When Gittel witnesses her friend being sexually molested by her older brother, the community shuts down any mention of the situation.  When the situation progresses to a horrible end, Gittel must decide what to do and whether to betray her family and community or her friend.  Painfully, it takes Gittel years to admit what she has seen and bring it to light.  This is a remarkable book that exposes shameful secrets in the Chassidic community while equally showing the positive side of their beliefs and lifestyle. 

This is Chayil’s own story, a Chassidic Jew who also witnessed a friend’s abuse.  Through her writing she has exposed her own pain and truth.  Chayil’s writing allows all readers to respect the beliefs of this community.  Gittel’s family is warm and wonderful, the ideal family to contrast against the strict beliefs and limitations.  They fairly glow with love, the perfect foil for the other family suffering the abuse.  Chayil’s writing is subtle and solid.  Firmly grounded in reality, it depicts the community with honesty, demonstrating how rules that protect can also become rules that restrict and bind.  What is most impressive is Chayil’s ability to show that the responses from various people change when they know the truth, have seen it before, and understand there is an issue.  The establishment is not the enemy here, ignorance is.

Gittel is a character that readers see grow from a young girl to a married teen.  Through it all, she struggles with the truth and her own guilt about the situation.  Her emotions are vivid and blazing, yet they ring with truth.  Other characters in the story are just as well written, such as Gittel’s parents and husband.

A brave and amazing book, this is a glimpse for readers into a closed society written by a woman who understands it well.  It is also a call for all of us to tell the truth to shout it out in order to save those who we love who are enduring the unimaginable.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Walker Books.

Faith

Faith by Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon

Through photographs, this book tells the story of many faiths, allowing glimpses into each of them.  The book celebrates the many faiths, tying them together through similarities but also revealing their differences too.  Cultures and religions are highlighted here in a book that children will see themselves in and also learn about others too. 

The photographs here are clear, vivid and capture moments of prayer and devotion with grace.  Each photograph is accompanied by at least the name of the religion and the country the photo was taken in.  Other photographs have a brief sentence that explain the image a bit further.  This brevity makes the book read simply and easily.  Larger text on each page carries the flow of the book, giving each set of pages a theme where we can see our commonalities and differences and celebrate both side by side.

Highly recommended, this is a book about religion that children will innately understand.  It is ideal to start discussions or quietly examine on your own.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Google Books offers a preview of the entire book, so you can see the photographs yourself!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,081 other followers