Saturday, August 17, 2019

Review - The Elephant in the Sukkah

The Elephant in the Sukkah
by Sherri Mandell
illustrated by Ivana Kuman
Date: 2019
Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Henry, once a happy circus elephant, feels lonely and sad at the farm for old elephants, where nobody wants to hear him sing. One evening, he follows the sound of music and singing to the Brenner family's sukkah. At last, a place where he might sing. But Henry cannot fit inside the sukkah! Ori knows it's a mitzvah to invite guests, and he gets a big idea about how to include Henry in the Sukkot fun.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a story about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. I'd actually never heard of it before, and I wondered whether the book would explain what it was all about (or if it would be suitable only for Jewish readers). But The Elephant in the Sukkah offers a very clear overview of the holiday--in the story and in the note at the end--so even non-Jewish readers can enjoy and appreciate the story.

Henry is a circus elephant. Not your typical one, mind you. His job in the circus is to sing! But when he gets old, he's shunted off to a farm for old elephants (who are kind of hilarious with their elderly ways... and reading glasses). Henry continues to sing, but the other elephants don't really appreciate his gifts. One night, he hears music coming from somewhere nearby. When he leaves the farm to investigate, he finds the Brenner family and their sukkah. Henry doesn't know what a sukkah is, so Ori, the youngest Brenner child, must explain it to his new friend. The Brenners invite Henry to join them in the sukkah, but there's just one problem: Henry's a great big elephant and won't fit! But Ori eventually comes up with a clever solution... one that's even sanctioned by the Talmud!

This is the kind of religious picture book I like. It's factual rather than faith-based, and offers information rather than proselytizing, making it suitable for a wide audience. The concepts of the sukkah and Sekkot are clearly explained and wrapped up in an amusing story about an elephant's forced retirement. I'm not the biggest fan of the style of the pictures, but they do their job and get the point across.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. If you're looking for books to teach kids about different cultural or religious traditions, this might be one to check out. Even as an adult reader, I learned something I didn't know before, and I always love it when a picture book has that effect.

Quotable moment:

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

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