Book review: 3 books for children


Book Reviews:

Dovid and Esty at Masada by Sara-Ester Varnai; illustrated by Miriam Sin Shalom (KDI, 2015, 118 pages)

Bentzi and the Magic Potion by Shifra Gluck (Feldheim, 113 pages)

Shikufitzky Street 4 by Shifra Gluck (Feldheim, 97 pages)

Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon

Dovid and Esty at Masada
“‘It’s a dream. A real dream,’ Esty whispered softly to herself.” Her dream, and her brother Dovid’s, was coming true: The two were making aliyah with their family. We meet the pair as they arrive at the Holy Land and embark on an adventure in this first in the “Kids Discover Israel” series of books for young readers.

Dovid and Esty at Masada is a work of historical fiction, based on true events that took place at Masada, the infamous fortress in the Judean Desert. Dovid and Esty, however, are fictitious characters who travel back in time to Masada. There, they make new friends, learn the history of Masada, and have various adventures. The book is an exciting read, with adorable illustrations, cute characterization and an upbeat quality. The book includes appendices about archaeology, historical facts, and current pictures of Masada and ancient remains.

Although parts of the story of Masada could be scary, the tone of the characters’ voices remains optimistic and hopeful, as do their conversations; for example, “Dovid and Esty peered into the storeroom. It was filled with bows and arrows, spearheads and knives. Dovid spied a collection of javelins in one corner. Esty saw piles of stones laid out according to weight, size and shape. ‘We make many of these ourselves,’ Ari said proudly. ‘Some were left over from Herod’s supplies. And some,’ he added, a mischievous glint in his eye, ‘we stole from the Romans during our night raids.’”

Just like Esty, author Sara-Ester Varnai’s dream came true when she and her family made aliyah from Vancouver in 2000. After the thrill of taking a tour guide course in a college in Jerusalem, and seeing almost all of the country and learning about Israel’s history, archelogy, architecture and art, Varnai wanted to share all she’d learned with children who perhaps could never explore Israel. Keep your eyes out for more books in the series, including volume two, Dovid and Esty: In Ir David, books on Jerusalem, Chevron, Tzefat, Ein Gedi and Akko.

Kids will be encouraged to be an active part of this series by participating in the Poetry/Art Contests that will be sponsored prior to the publication of the novels. Winning entries will be published in the books.

Bentzi and the Magic Potion
Popular children’s author Shifra Gluck is back with two new books in her best-selling series. In the new “Bentzi” series book, Bentzi and the Magic Potion, Batya narrates the story. This charming storyline about Batya, and her pen pal Chemda, focuses on the issue of children finding courage to do things that are difficult. The message is poignant and well done; not over-the-top but presented in a clever way. Batya confronts several of her own fears, and minor characters also deal with theirs. A child reading this book will feel comforted; she is not alone with her worries and anxieties, and can find the courage inside of herself, just like Batya, Bentzi, and their friends.

Sweet black and white drawings highlight the story every three or four pages but don’t overwhelm—perfect for a young reader beginning to tackle chapter books. A large font is used as well, so each page is not too full; again, friendly for the emerging reader.

Gluck does a fine job in building the plot in each chapter, then ending the chapter with a cliffhanger that entices the reader to turn the page. She also has a knack for getting into the heads of children, writing from their perspective and experiencing their feelings. I appreciated her ability to develop the story at an even pace, one that kept the reader interested but didn’t rush to “perfectly wrapped package” endings.

Shikufitzky Street 4
Welcome back to Shikufitzky Street! My kids insist that I sit with them and read these comics, over and over again, so how delighted they were to receive this latest in the series!

The brightly colored cartoon illustrations take us through day-to-day life and the yamim tovim, with cute jokes on each page about what the characters say or think. It’s especially fun when the characters address the reader, as when Lemech and Kehos decide to talk in a secret language – backwards – and the rest of the cartoon is written backwards for the reader to have fun deciphering.

The Shikufitzky kids are joined by neighbors, including Ditza, Nitza, Lemech, Shlomtzion, and others. All are unique individuals – quite a feat to pull off with cartoons. But even though the exchanges are brief, what the characters say and think are enough. This might look simple, but having such a tiny amount of space to create characters is quite difficult. Gluck uses language concisely and still shows us who each character is.

At the end of the book is a special section titled, “Gershon the Genius’s Lab for Sensory Experiments.” In these cartoons, Gershon the Genius demonstrates his clever inventions, such as a special gadget that allows people to hear what their possessions are saying. But when Nitza and Ditza’s backpacks say, “We’re such a mess! Full of paper that need sorting, sandwich bags that need throwing away, and all kinds of stuff like that!” the girls lose their enthusiasm for the invention.