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Jun 2 2014

Top 12 Summer Reads of 2014

By at 10:33 am

Welcome to the Third Annual Jordana Horn Summer Reading List! This list is by no means conclusive, but it’s a list of books I’ve read in the past six months that I thought were particularly terrific. Please put your own ideas and suggestions for great reads in the comments, and friend me on GoodReads (I’m “Jordana Horn Gordon” there) so we can keep talking books, which I love passionately. Without further ado, here are some great reads that should sit on your shelf or device this summer, in no particular order.

to-rise2

1. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris 

This one is demanding and intellectually ambitious, but well worth your time. It’s the story of dentist Paul O’Rourke, who is bored with his life, dental practice, and his relationship to the world at large–until his online identity begins to be recreated by strangers. These strangers claim to be the descendants of Amalekites, the ancient enemy of the Jewish people–which is interesting enough without including the fact that they claim that Paul is one of them, and he just might believe them. This is a book about identity–what it means to be part of a people and a person. It’s jaw-droppingly good. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 17 2014

“Number the Stars” Does More Harm Than Good When it Comes to Holocaust Education

By at 12:06 pm

number-the-stars

Shortly after our discussions on Kveller about the appropriateness of the Purim story for preschoolers, my 4th grader needed to read “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry (whom I will always adore due to the “Anastasia Krupnik” series).

I knew it was a book about the Holocaust, and I decided to read it first, so that I could be prepared for any questions he might have. (I’d initially confused it with another title, which follows the main character and her family all the way to Auschwitz.)

What I found in “Number the Stars,” however, was a book about the Holocaust… kind of. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 17 2014

Tova Mirvis on Motherhood, Orthodoxy & Her Latest Novel “Visible City”

By at 10:40 am

 Tova-Mirvis

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Tova Mirvis about her new book, “Visible City,” the all-consuming nature of parenting, and the freedom that comes with accepting imperfection. 

In “Visible City,” unlike your previous novels, Judaism isn’t a central theme. What took its place in this book? 

To write a novel, (especially to write a novel while you have three kids!) you have to be really obsessed and consumed by a subject; it has to pull at you all the time. With my first two novels, “The Ladies Auxiliary” and “The Outside World,” I wanted to explore issues of belief and doubt, and the tensions between community and individuality, tradition and modernity. On a personal note, those books were a way for me to grapple with my own upbringing and life as an Orthodox Jew. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 3 2014

Ten Tricks for Staying Sane as a Stay at Home Mom

By at 2:12 pm

thrift-store

I am a stay at home mom. And holy crap do I love it. I mean, wow! FOUR human beings call me mom! I am blessed, lucky, honored. In total mothering bliss! But, as being a SAHM seems to be an increasing rarity in my circle of friends, I often get asked how I manage to keep from feeling bored.

Can I tell you something? As much as I love these kids of mine, and as much as I cherish every hair on their beautiful little heads, sometimes, yes, I get a little bored. And sometimes I even start feeling like my whole identity has been consumed by my role as mother. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 10 2014

How to Get a Bunch of Teenagers to Study Jewish Literature in the Summer

By at 1:56 pm

joshua

I recently interviewed author, journalist, and academic director of the Yiddish Book Center, Josh Lambert. Lambert is a pioneer of The Great Jewish Books Summer Program, a week-long exploration of literature & culture for high school students. Lambert is a father of one son and currently resides in Connecticut with his wife.

I spoke with Lambert about the exciting student literary program, what Jewish books he prefers to read with his students, and the five Jewish books that all parents should read.

1. What three books do you always make sure to teach at the Yiddish Book Center?

Well, despite the name, we don’t teach many whole books in Great Jewish Books–because students are only with us for a week, and there’s only so much they can read every day. But I always tend to start the course with Kafka’s Before the Law–to get us talking about what is and what isn’t Jewish literature, and the history of interpretation in Jewish culture, from the haggadah and midrash to literary modernism. I can’t imagine not teaching Philip Roth’s story “Defender of the Faith” or Avrom Sutzkever’s geto lider (ghetto poems)–these are startling, perfect literary pieces that get at some of the biggest themes treated by Jewish literature: community, continuity, and response to adversity.

2. How have kids reacted to Portnoy’s Complaint and other Roth books that are wrought with awkward sexual confessions?

I’ve never given Portnoy to the Great Jewish Books participants. Not because I don’t think they can handle it, but because (again) there’s not enough time. But in general I’ve found that 16-year-olds are able to handle challenging material with aplomb. I’ve noticed that when the Great Jewish Books students pick examples of literature to read at the reading/talent show we have at the end of the program, they often choose very intense and fascinating work–I recall one very memorable reading of Eve Ensler’s poetry, for example, that wasn’t exactly G-rated. These are people growing up in a world of almost limitless access to so-called adult materials. The ones I meet are thoughtful about what’s appropriate or not for various situations and what they can learn from the difficult stuff. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 22 2013

My Son is a Bookworm & It’s Sort of a Problem

By at 10:25 am

5-year-old reading big book

Last night, very suddenly, my 5-year-old told me that he was worried about the 14-year- old boy who was missing in the subways. My heart stopped. I asked him how he had heard about that and he replied that he had seen a sign posted in the subway.

My son started reading by himself at age 3. He’ll read anything: storybooks, chapter books, his younger sister’s books, cookbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. We’re ecstatic that he is such an avid reader. We simultaneously celebrate it and find it challenging. He can read grocery lists to us when we go to the store, bedtime stories to his sister, and can amuse himself for an hour and a half during rest time. However, as exemplified by last night’s conversation, we long ago learned that just because he can read everything doesn’t mean he should read everything.

Even starting at 3, he would suddenly say strange quotes (“Blistering barnacles!” from The Adventures of Tintin) and ask questions about books that were not age-appropriate that we didn’t know were in his room. When he started asking about mummies, ghosts, and pirates (though he pronounced it pi-rayts), we discovered that he had happened upon the first four Magic Treehouse books. There are no parental control passwords or buttons on what he can read, only what is in his environment (and sometimes, not even then). Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 9 2013

Free Stuff Alert: Six Great Books for the New Mom

By at 12:32 pm

books for new moms

Attention all you new mommies-to-be (and friends of new mommies-to-be who like to give gifts)! Browsing through the parenting section in the bookstore can be pretty overwhelming, but we’ve got six great books that are perfect for a new mom. These books cover all your novice parenting needs, ranging from breastfeeding, to yoga, to the ultimate guide for being a hot Mamaleh. And even better, we’re giving them away for free to one lucky winner.

So what does the winner get? The new mom book package includes: Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 23 2013

One Day I’ll Miss the Chaos (But Not Today)

By at 2:14 pm

little bunny foo fooMy 4-year-old is absolutely obsessed with books. Mainly books about trucks–especially fire trucks. He wants me to read to him all day long. He also loves Little Bunny Foo Foo.

“Mom, can you just read it four more times before bed? Pullleeeaassse?

It does this mama’s heart proud to see her kids enjoy a book. Even if it is Little Bunny Foo Foo.

My eldest son also loves a good book, but now at 13 years old, the days where he crawls up into my lap and asks for me to read to him are long gone. I no longer pull his head close to me and breath his boyish smell of sweat and dirt and play dough. He doesn’t need my help brushing his teeth, getting dressed, or lacing up his shoes. He hates most of the clothes I pick out for him (even though I’m certain I have better taste than he does). He shrugs and feigns pulling away if I try to give him a hug, even though he has a smile on his face. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 22 2013

The Best Kids Books for Rosh Hashanah

By at 5:01 pm

engineer ari and the rosh hashanah rideIn her beautiful post about her sons’ Jewish identities, Tamara mentioned getting her first Rosh Hashanah book from PJ Library, and then pulling several more off the shelf.

That’s right, folks. It’s time to start thinking about the High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah starts on SEPTEMBER 4th. Once you’re done freaking out, you might want to think about getting some books of your own to read with the kiddos. Here are some of my favorites, courtesy of PJ Library and my local library:

1. Classic Symbols & Themes

If you’re looking for books specifically about the symbols and themes of Rosh Hashanah, you might want to check out Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen or Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by Cathy Goldberg Fishman. The first book is a fun story about a conductor taking his train on its first trip across Israel during Rosh Hashanah, and the second one explores the traditions of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur through the eyes of a young girl. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 11 2013

Bubbe’s Top 10 Books for Jewish Kids

By at 5:03 pm

the tale of meshka the kvetchThere has been a lot on Kveller about books for Jewish children but I have not seen any mention of my own favorites. So, after decades of reading to my children and grandchildren, here are my own top 10 picks for you to share with the children you love (between the ages of 3-8, all available on Amazon):

1. Yussel’s Prayer retold by Barbara Cohen: The story of a young cowherd and his simple Yom Kippur prayer. When my children were small, we read this every year on Yom Kippur night.

2. The Magician by Uri Shulevitz: Elijah the Prophet works his magic for an impoverished couple on Passover.

3. The Tale of Meshka the Kvetch by Carol Chapman: Need a laugh with a life lesson? This might be just the book for adults, too. Read the rest of this entry →

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