Book Reviews: Sarah Builds a School by Ann D. Koffsky and Leslie Ginsparg Klein (Menucha Publishers/Menucha Classroom Solutions 2018) & A Time for Vengeance by Nathaniel Wyckoff (2018)
Reviewed by Rebecca Klempner
While Angeleno Nathaniel Wyckoff has previously written a science-fiction/adventure series for middle grade children, A Time for Vengeance marks his entry into the young adult section of the library. The book is a coming of age tale set in Spain during the 17th century. Salvador—also known as Simon—is the eldest child in the Mendez clan, a family of conversos, who have spent the many decades since the expulsion outwardly following Christianity. Although in theory acceptable to their Christian neighbors, Simon has grown up being hassled by others for suspected Jewish practices—practices which in fact his family secretly observes. His resentment at the mistreatment and inability to freely practice his religion has filled him with rage.
When his father is arrested, Simon fantasizes about breaking him out of prison and exacting revenge on the Jews’ enemies. Relying on exotic martial arts that employ weapons his father imported from the Far East, Simon takes down one enemy after another. But he is haunted by dreams which suggest that maybe the best revenge is not one filled with physical violence.
A Time for Vengeance is appropriate for readers 11-16 years old and will be most enjoyed by readers of books like The 39 Clues series which pair historical information with fast-paced action. While it contains no foul language or other inappropriate material, it contains a large number of violent action sequences, including scenes of torture. Readers can find the book on Amazon.
Sarah Builds a School tells the story of Sarah Schenirer, widely praised as the most important Jew of the 20th century. In simple terms appropriate to young readers, authors Koffsky and Ginsparg Klein relate how Sarah’s love of Torah learning began and how she developed a system of Jewish schooling for girls now embraced worldwide. The text is great for kids just taking the leap from sounding out to reading for information and is accompanied by lively illustrations by Dena Ackerman (a former resident of Los Angeles). The illustrations will delight young readers—particularly the “old-time” clothing.
My one concern is that my children did not recognize Sarah in these images, nor did I, although we have previously seen photos of Frau Shenirer. Since Ms. Ackerman is an artist known for creating remarkable likenesses of her subjects, there was clearly an attempt to make Frau Shenirer look prettier than in real life. Yet, wouldn’t it be great for children to see that a Jew can shine regardless of their outward appearance? Moreover, by being honest about Frau Shenirer’s appearance, the book would have been a more trustworthy resource for children.
Sarah Builds a School is perfect for readers of early chapter books (approximately ages 6 to 8) and a must for Jewish schools and libraries. It is available online and at most Jewish booksellers.
DISCLAIMER: I received both of these books for free, with no other payment from the author or publisher, and Sarah Builds a School shares a publisher with my last two books.