Bina Lobell’s Super Secret Diary by Ruchama Feuerman (Judaica Press 2014)
Not for Sale by Bracha Rosman (Israel Bookshop 2014)
Book Reviews by Rebecca Klempner:
When I first spotted Ruchama Feuerman’s new book, Bina Lobell’s Super Secret Diary, I knew I had to read it. Sporting a hot pink cover that mimics the diary of the title, the book comes complete with a “locking” strap and fake stickers.
Yes, it’s a flashback to fourth grade.
The plot of this middle-grade novel is straightforward: 9 year-old Bina Lobell attends a Montessori school in a private home. Her parents chose the homeschooling environment both because Mrs. Lobell’s best friend runs the school and because Bina is highly allergic to peanuts. Only four other students attend Bina’s school, and she longs to branch out socially, particularly when the only other fourth grader in the school turns against her.
Feuerman has built her reputation writing literary fiction for mainstream, adult audiences. Despite the difference both in genre and audience, it’s the same abilities that won her accolades in those previous books – Seven Blessings and In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist – that really make Bina Lobell… shine. I really got to know Bina’s world as she described herself, her classmates, relatives, and teachers, and I laughed along with her self-deprecating humor. The relationships between these characters are surprisingly complex, yet flexible over the course of the novel.
When things really start going badly for Bina, it hit me – an adult! – surprisingly hard. Feuerman includes scenes of bullying so evocative, I gasped and cringed. The solution to the bullying isn’t tidy or perfect but it’s realistic. Although the novel primarily addresses girls, both in their inner lives and in a social context, the strength of the characterization and the adroit handling of bullying may appeal to some boys.
In my favorite moment in the book, Bina wishes there were a “friend gemach” in which to find companionship. I laughed and teared up at the same time as she described in detail what the friend gemach would look like and how it would operate. Hasn’t everyone wished for such a thing at some time in their life?
Bina learns about middos development – character growth – throughout the book, but this is handled without heavy-handed, didactic messages. As a parent, watching Bina and the other girls grow into the “tzedekeses in training” that their teachers wanted, touched me greatly. These hopes reflect my aspirations for my own children.
To help readers unfamiliar with Jewish vocabulary, the publisher provided a glossary at the end. Other nice touches: Inside the book, the font imitates girlish handwriting on journal pages. The adorable and comical illustrations interpret the text well.
Do you have a kid who immediately grabs each issue of your favorite frum magazine the moment it arrives in your house so they can keep up with their favorite serial? Good news: the following book is for that kid.
L.A. resident Bracha Rosman has been writing for the Orthodox world for years, both in magazines and in books like Where There’s a Will, Never Too Late, and Out of Sight. She knows this audience well and her latest novel, Not for Sale, is a plot-driven thriller for the upper elementary set. The novel follows the Rosen family’s quest to transform a property they inherited from a long-lost relative into a new Jewish Community Center. When misadventure after misadventure hits the Rosen clan and their project, the kids begin to suspect foul play – but by whom? And why have they been targeted? And can they stop the criminals before disaster strikes?
The book delivers just enough danger and suspense to keep young readers riveted, yet contains no major concerns for even Hareidi parents. Our family is reading, Not for Sale, aloud at bedtime, and my 9 year old son is perfectly entertained. Israel Bookshop produced the book with an attractive, comic-like cover that will appeal to the target audience, and their designer chose a nice, large font that will help out those readers who are just getting used to reading full-length novels. Not for Sale makes an entertaining read for kids 8 – 11 years old who prefer adventure and suspense.