Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Coming of Age: 13 B'Nai Mitzvah Stories

Rosen, Jonathan, editor. Coming of Age: 13 B'Nai Mitzvah Stories
April 19th 2022 by Albert Whitman & Company ISBN
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It makes sense that the vast majority of books with middle grade Jewish characters involve b'nai mitzvahs, since most 13 year olds are in about 8th grade. (These include Libenson's Becoming BriannaFreedman's My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, Weissman's A Length of String, Rosenberg and Shang's This is Just a Test, Korman's Linked, Perl's All Three Stooges, and Ben Izzy's Dreidel's on the Brain. ) Even in my community, where there are very few Jewish families, one of my children was invited to a party, so this is an important rite for middle grade readers to know about. As a note explains at the beginning of the book, there has been a rise in anti-Semitism in the last few years, and there is a disproportionate amount of violence aimed at this community. Coming of Age is a great way to introduce readers to Jewish culture and hopefully increase awareness of Jewish culture and empathy among young readers. 

I find it hard to review short story collections, and until recently, it was hard to get students to read them. This year, I've had several teachers wanting them. In addition to Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which has always circulated well) and Scieszka's Guys Read collections, Ali's Once Upon an Eid, Oh's  Flying Lessons and Other Stories, Reynold's Look Both Ways, and Mbalia's Black Boy Joy all have been useful... but students still aren't checking them out. I'm glad I bought them, though, since they are a great way to get introduce cultural topics with shorter stories, and perhaps introduce some new authors. 

Coming of Age has a variety of b'nai mitzvah (the term used for multiple celebrations when boys or mixed sex groups are being discussed) stories, including two with a fantasy twist. In one, a boy travels back to the passage he is reading about Noah's ark and has to help out, and in the other, we see a celebration on Planet Latke, which was a bit goofy. Baskin has a good turn with a girl and a boy who have grown up as good friends, and she thinks he is interested in another girl at his party, and Green has coverage of a pandemic bat mitzvah, with all of the restrictions. Bottner has story about a girl in what seems to be the 1930s planning a celebration, and Krulik has an interesting contest with boys trying to get thrown out of religious services! Grandparents show up in Rosen's The Pocket Watch and Roske's Grandma Merle's Last Wish. There's a ceremony in Greece for a girl whose family is posted there with the military, and one set during a very hectic family week. Frequent themes arise; prejudice, family ties, and nervousness over having to get up to speak in public. 

This was an interesting compilation of stories, so I will buy it to have on hand. I do try to get students to check out short stories collections by telling them that they are easier to read than an entire novel, and this is sometimes an effective ploy. 

I did have some questions about why so many of the stories dealt with nerves. If many children, even if their families aren't particularly observant, have these ceremonies and have to spend at least six months preparing for them, why do so many stories center on how difficult it is just to get up in front of people? I've been trying to go back fifty years to my own 7th grade religious education in a United Methodist congregation, and I remember it being a lot of fun, hanging out with thirty other kids, doing all manner of activities and retreats. We spent so much time at church, planning Youth Sundays, having bake-a-thons and sleepovers, that church just seemed like home. I discussed this with a friend who grew up Missouri Synod Lutheran, and he had a group question and answer session in front of the whole congregation, but doesn't remember it making him nervous. Of course, these were group events and not the singular ones depicted in Coming of Age. This is why it's interesting to read about other cultures!

1 comment:

  1. I don't think I remember more than two or three Jewish students in all the years I taught. I am so glad you have students who may benefit from this book.