Thanks to kind friends at Raincoast Books, I have three wonderful, distinctive titles from publisher Levine Querido on the review docket today! First up on review is the based-on-a-true-story Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi by Canadian author Sigal Samuel, illustrated by Vali Mintzi; then we’ll be taking a look at Jef Aerts and Mart Törnqvist’s picture book Bigger Than a Dream (translated by David Colmer); and last but not least, we’ll dive into a book for young readers called What Ollie Saw by Joukje Akveld, illustrated by Sieb Posthuma, translated by Bill Nagelkerke.
“…Osnat spent many hours alone with books. She stared and sniffed. She peeked and poked. What secrets were they hiding?”. Written by Sigal Samuel with artwork by Vali Mintzi, Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi is a fantastically illustrated, compelling and fascinating look at the life of Osnat (Asenath) Barzani who lived from 1590 to 1670 in Mosul. Weaving elements of centuries-old legends and folktales about Osnat and her father, Samuel and MintzI’s book takes readers through Osnat’s incredible life story. As a young child, Osnat begs her father, Rabbi Barzani, to teach her how to read- unconventional at the time, as girls and women had distinctly non-educational, house-bond duties to focus upon. Rabbi Barzani, however, is encouraging of his daughter and gives Osnat an education in “Hebrew, Torah, Talmud, Midrash, and Kabbalah”. As Osnat grows up, so too does her deep knowledge of Hebrew and the Torah, as well as her honed gift of teaching. While historically unthinkable for a woman to lead a yeshiva, even for a woman as erudite and compassionate as Osnat, Osnat does indeed end up leading her father’s (and later, her husband’s) yeshiva. Osnat and Her Dove also takes time to explore Osnat’s “miraculous power[s]” of healing, her kinship with doves, and how deeply respected Osnat came to be through her later life and long after. With its lyrical storytelling and rich artwork, Osnat and Her Dove combines the best of biographical picture books/children’s non-fiction, and offers readers of all ages a spotlight on an incredible part of religious history and women’s history. Notes: Back matter includes a not-to-be-missed Author’s Note with more information on the life of Osnat Barzani. You can also read this wonderfully detailed review of Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi written by Dr. Emily Schneider on the Jewish Book Council website.
“…it wasn’t ordinary sadness. It was something I’d always felt. It was old, dried-out sadness. It covered the walls of our house like wallpaper. Sometimes you found it in Mom’s soup, in the jobs Dad did around the house, or in a woolly hat for when it’s cold.”. Bigger Than a Dream by Jef Aerts, illustrated by Marit Törnqvist, and translated by David Colmer, is a profoundly meditative picture book, told in first-person narrative, that explores one young child’s experience with sibling loss, sadness, and questions about death. Sitting down for breakfast one day, a boy somehow hears his sister calling to meet for a bike ride that evening- a sister whose “ photo is on the wall above the table…not color like mine…gray with yellow sheen”. The young boy tells us that he knows “you can do a lot when you’re dead. You can make conversations falter and you make people cry…But going for a bike ride?”. As the boy asks his mom that evening about dying, she tells him that “everything goes quiet…dying is like dreaming, but bigger”. When “Sis” appears by the young boy’s bed later that, he wants so badly to ask her questions about death and dying, but instead, they go for a bicycle ride. It is a bicycle ride that seems to span dreamy worlds, but then Sis asks her brother to take a turn around in the sky and go back to visit a gravesite, a hospital where Sis once stayed, a park where Sis once played, and finally, their home. Bigger Than a Dream is exceptionally thoughtful in its exploration of the deep ache of sadness, in missing someone, and in how honestly it talks about death and dying (all the more so due to its first-person narrative from a child’s clear voice). For readers looking for something tender and singularly honest around the subject of death or about the sadness in missing a loved one- along the lines of Duck, Death, and the Tulip or something more contemporary like The Boy and the Gorilla– Bigger Than a Dream is definitely one to explore. Note: Originally published in the Netherlands by Querido.
“Ollie looked at his sister. His sister who always knew better. He shook his head in disbelief. You might be older, he thought. And bigger. But you don’t see clearly”. What Ollie Saw written by Joukje Akveld, with illustrations by the late Sieb Posthuma, and translation by Bill Nagelkerke, is a delightful and unique children’s reader. As readers meet Ollie, we learn a few things: Ollie “has a father and a mother. And a sister he sometimes wishes he didn’t have”. Why? Well, Ollie’s sister is “bigger [and] older”, thinks she knows best, and likes to “grizzle”: she often complains and accuses Ollie of not seeing things properly. For example, when on a train going “through the countryside”, Ollie’s sister complains about the cows in the field being “dull”. Ollie cannot believe his sister: “COWS?! Those were water buffalo with sharp horns. And hooves…/…hooves that could squash any sister, no matter how big she was.”. Ollie has a few similar instances of seeing things differently; and a rather public incident in front of his class leads to an unhappy Ollie ending up with glasses. But are glasses really what Ollie needs to see better, or are his sister, teacher, and others around him simply not seeing what fun possibilities Ollie sees in the world? That I will leave for interested readers to discover and discuss on their own! Those who enjoy their early readers (or picture books!) with little bit of sideways humour, or are searching for something terrifically unusual and smart (with wonderfully cool, retro/classic-feeling artwork!), What Ollie Saw is a great pick. Note: Originally published in the Netherlands by Querido.
I received copies of these titles courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.