One usually asks what grade level is appropriate for the reader of juvenile book. Avram's Gift, however, is not meant for children to read. It is meant for children to hear as a parent or other "-eleh*" reads. That way, it becomes a springboard for telling family stories -- stories that tell of love flowing from generation to generation and through the cycle of the years.
Young Mark is disturbed by the stern visage in a photo of his great-great grandfather Avram. But when Avram's grandson (who is also Mark's grandfather) shares stories about Avram, Mark understand the love that binds them. For example, when grandfather holds up the photo of great-great grandfather, "his smile was so bright that it lit up the face in the picture. 'They actually look like they are happy to see each other'" Mark thinks.
Physically linking their lives is a shofar that has passed through the generations. When Avram sees his grandson leaving Eastern Europe for America, he gives his shofar to the lad. The grandson exclaims, "Zeyde, your shofar? You're giving this to me? Really? But its your treasure." Avram replies, "No, Menashkelah. You are my treasure," and tells the boy that he will hear the shofar wherever it is sounded.
Ultimately, the shofar passes to Mark who, as a recently bar mitzvahed 13 y.o.,** sounds the horn at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. "He felt then that everyone could hear it. No, not just the people in the sanctuary, but everyone—around the world and behind the moon and beyond the stars . . . to another place and time . . . to the very spot where the shofar came from, where his great-great-grandpa Avram sat, with his eyes tightly shut, in the synagogue, listening to his favorite sound."
I know just how he feels.
THE CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS SEPTEMBER 25, 2003
"A delightful, moving Rosh Hashanah story that teaches how each individual can deeply affect future generations. Exquisite watercolor illustrations by award-winning artist Laurie McGaw. Ages 8 and up."
BOOKLIST, Stephanie Zvirin 2003
K-Gr. 1. Avram likes everything about his new house except the picture of his stern-looking namesake, his great-great-grandfather. He can't understand why his parents want to take the portrait out of the closet where it has been stored for years. The answer comes at Rosh Hashanah, when Avram hears his own beloved grandfather tell about Great-great-grandfather Avram in the Russian shtetl. It was he who taught Grandpa to make music with his mouth as if he were blowing the shofar (a ram's horn trumpet) used during the holiday. The tale-within-a-tale comes full circle two years later when young Avram, inspired by his grandfather's story, blows the shofar at the holiday service. The story, which introduces some interesting holiday-specific terminology, is pretty light, but the painterly artwork is quite nice, adding a real sense of history. Connections across generations also come clear in a story that's as sweet as honey used for dipping apples.
JEWISH BOOK WORLD LINDA R. SILVER, DECEMBER 2003
Mark is an eight-year-old whose affirmative attitude toward Judaism propels the plot of this well-illustrated chapter book. Just about the only thing that he doesn't like is a photo of an old, bearded, stern-looking man which his family reveres but that scares him. As the family prepares for and then observes Rosh Hashanah in the synagogue and at home, with food and friends and services woven joyfully into the story, Mark learns more about the old man, his great-great-grandfather, Avram.
The tales that Mark's Grandpa Morris tells at the holiday dinner table flow backwards to his childhood when he was a boy of about Mark's age, then called Menashkeleh. They are familiar ones of shtetl life and immigration, revealing the stern-looking old man in the photograph to be the soul of kindness, whose gifts of love and a shofar traveled across time and space with Menashkeleh/Morris, who settled with his parents and sister in Baltimore. The full-color illustrations, which occur every few pages, are photographic in their realism and they capture the personalities and surroundings of both the modern family and the shtetl-dwellers to perfection. There is more, however.
Once introduced to Grandpa Morris's zeyde, Mark is inspired to learn how to blow the shofar, Avram's gift that now belongs to him. Details about synagogues, about blowing the shofar and about its centrality to High Holiday synagogue services introduce an instructive element into the story. Time moves fluidly once again, this time forward to when Mark has just celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. He is asked to substitute for the shul's regular shofar blower on Yom Kippur and when he sounds the one great blast, "Te...ki...ah ge...dol...aaaa...ah" clear and strong, he imagines it sailing "to the very spot where his shofar came from, where his great-great-grandpa Avram sat . . ."
An Afterword addresses readers directly, introducing them to Gary Stein, the real-life shofar-blower at B'nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, Maryland, encouraging them to learn to blow a shofar, and briefly suggesting ways for them to discover more about their own family histories. The story of Avram's Gift is imbued with a great deal of Yiddishkeit, told in a warm, earnest style that idealizes its subjects without distorting them. Mark is an unusually introspective eight-year-old but the illustrations allow readers of the same age to identify with him by showing him to be a typical American kid, with Senators, Orioles, and Colts pennants in his room, a contemporary looking house, family, and friends, and familiar toys. Librarians will do children, parents, teachers, and clergy a favor by connecting them with this affirmative book. For ages 8 - 10.
CHILDREN'S LITERATURE CHILDRENSLIT.COM REVIEWED BY JUDY CHERNAK
How many of us have seen a portrait or photograph of some historical figure or ancestor with a stern look and a long beard and taken an immediate dislike to the scowling face? Mark has had a similar feeling towards his great-great-grandfather Avram, for whom he is named, since his earliest childhood. And, worse luck, that scary picture is slated to hang in the hallway right outside his bedroom in the new home that's almost built now.
By contrast, Mark really loves his grandfather Morris, who will soon be coming for Rosh Hashanah. Mark learns about his grandfather_s love for his own grandfather, the Avram in the picture, and about the gift he received from him as a young man leaving Europe for the New World, in this touching and intriguing story.
The holiday traditions are nicely woven into the story of two Avrams, and they tie together with Mark's dream of becoming a really good shofar blower in the synagogue, like Aaron Stein, who can blow a tekiah gedolah for 46 seconds. Artist Laurie McGaw_'s pictures are flawless—_one could step right into them and feel at home. Set in the author's hometown of Bethesda in suburban Washington, DC, with references to her original home in Baltimore, MD, the book is filled with details that keep the story authentic and nostalgic at the same time.
A wonderful choice for those long holiday afternoons, it_'s sure to spark questions about family history and legacies left to future generations.
THE ASSOCIATION OF JEWISH LIBRARIES THE NEW JEWISH VALUES FINDER LINDA R. SILVER, EDITOR, PRIMARY, ELEMENTARY
A well-illustrated short chapter book about an eight-year-old boy whose affirmative attitude towards Judaism and his family motivates him to learn to blow the shofar. The story interweaves the Rosh Hashanah observance of a modern Jewish family with shtetl ancestors, immigration, and High Holiday rituals in a Rockville, Maryland synagogue.
McGaw's illustrations are photographically realistic and provide details that will enable middle grade readers to identify with the story.
Subjects: * Family * Grandparents * High Holy days * Holidays * Immigration and emigration * Intergenerational relations * Jews in the United States — East * Rosh Hashanah * Shofar * Shtetl * Synagogues * Yom Kippur Values: In English_ followed by the Hebrew equivalent: * Acts of loving-kindness_/Gemilut hasadim * Beautifying the mitzvah_/Hiddur mitzvah * Family relationships_/Shalom bayit * Hearing the shofar_/Lishmoa kol shofar * Honoring the aged_/Kibud zekaynim * Hospitality, Welcoming guests_/Hachnasat orchim * Loving one's fellow Jews_/Ahavat Yisrael * Peace in the home/_Shalom bayit * Pride of ancestry_/Yachson
BOOKVIEWS BY ALAN CARUBA
The Jewish new year celebration, Rosh Hashanah, arrives in September and Margie Blumberg, the author of the “Sunny Bunnies” series, teamed with illustrator, Laurie McGaw, to publish Avram’s Gift ($10.00, MB Publishing). It is the story of a young Jewish boy, Mark, growing up in America. A picture on the wall of his home; that of his great-great-grandfather, Avram, portrays a stern-looking man. When the family gathers to celebrate, he learns the story of this man as his grandfather answers his questions. He learns of the shofar, a ram’s horn, a gift passed from generation to the other and how each is linked to the past and to the ancient heritage of Judaism. Suffice to say, this is a story for a young Jew, but it is also every immigrant family’s story. As the High Holy days approach, it would make an ideal gift. JEWISH KIDS BOOK CIRCLE MAVEN
While teaching at our local Hebrew school, I facilitated a curriculum on Jewish immigration with the third grade students in my classes. Part of this program incorporated reading both fiction and nonfiction books relating to the Jewish immigrant experience. The books we used gave the students a general understanding of some of the challenges their ancestors may have faced and stirred their interest in discovering more about their own Jewish immigrant ancestors. My goal was for each of my students to be able to answer these questions; "How did I, a Jewish American, arrive here, living in this place and time? Who helped to make it possible for me to be here?"
If the school year began right before Rosh Hashanah, the first book we shared was Avram's Gift written by Margie Blumberg and illustrated by Laurie McGaw. The story travels in time from the present day of a boy named Mark back to the childhood of his grandfather Morris in Russia. The catalyst is an old picture of a man dressed in strange clothes. Mark is actually afraid of it, until he learns the story behind the picture.
The joyous present day High Holy Day celebrations Mark enjoys with his family are contrasted with the difficulties experienced by his grandfather's family in Russia. The tearful parting at the train station in Russia and the triumphant shofar sounding at the story's conclusion, emotionally portray the strength of the Jewish people despite adversity.
Avram's Gift is best for children, seven to ten years of age, but it touched me (yes, I cry every time) even as an adult. This book connects personally with our family because one of our cousins, the rabbi in the family, sounds our immigrant Zayde's shofar each year. We also have pictures that my own children might have at one time considered scary, including this one [see below].
Avram's Gift is among the books I am saving for each of my children, who will hopefully share them with their own children one day.
SYBIL KAPLAN, OCTOBER 2005
Mark (alias Avram Itzik) is eight years old, and his parents are building a new home. Somehow after they move in, prior to Rosh Hashanah, Mark is haunted by a picture of his great-great-grandfather, Avram, which he does not like and which sits on the floor in the hall. The holiday arrives and so do his grandparents. At the holiday meal, the cleaned-up, framed picture of his great-great-grandfather, Avram, is unveiled, much to Mark's unhappiness. The plot of the story is a trip back in time describing Mark's ancestors and how the picture took on new meaning for him, along with a special dream.
Children eight and up will find a different approach to the holiday season--l'dor v dor—as the ideas of from generation to generation, family history, and heirlooms are explored. Children nine to 12 will gain a new appreciation for their family history through the experiences of Mark. The book can also be a great jumping-off point for a wide variety of discussions about families and roots. A glossary of holiday and Yiddish terms and the background of the model for the story conclude the book.
The Maryland author has written and published several books. The Canadian illustrator, Laurie McGaw, who has illustrated children's books, contributes lovely watercolors to enhance the book.
DEANNA SILVERMAN, OCTOBER 2005
Rarely do self-published books come to my attention. Rarer still is their likelihood of meeting my criteria for being worthy of review. But there are exceptions. While not without fault, the following book captures a spirit of love, continuity, pride and achievement well worth celebrating on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and every other holiday.
Written as a chapter storybook, Avram's Gift is essentially a fictionalized version of what sounds very much like vignettes of family history with overlays for relevance. As such, it is almost overloaded with stories within stories linking distant generations to its contemporary hero, Mark, called Markeleh by his grandparents.
That Yiddish e-l-e-h addition to Mark's name is one clue to the love and sense of tradition that pervades this book. It reappears when Mark's dad's father, Grandpa Morris, talks about his life in the Russian shtetl Aroshka. In Aroshka, his name had been Menashe, but Menashkeleh to his grandparents.
The connection between the long ago past and present is represented in several other ways as well. Most obviously by a photograph of Mark's great-great-grandfather, Avram. Mark finds the picture scary and is disturbed that in their new home his parents want to hang it outside his bedroom door.
Other connections include the fact that Mark's "Yiddish" name is also Avram, the family's enjoyment of telling and listening to stories, and, above all, a love of shofar including great-great-grandfather Avram's method of teaching shofar blowing.
It's the love of shofar and Mark's determination to not only learn how to blow shofar but to someday blow the longest tekiah gedolah ever at the end of Yom Kippur that tie this multi-generational family story to the High Holidays in general and to Yom Kippur in particular.
Along the way, the story's complementary theme, new beginnings, surfaces again and again. A new home. A new best friend, Ari. Ari's first Rosh Hashanah in America. A new school year. A new grade. Rosh Hashanah. Stories about Grandpa Morris' new life in America. Stories about immigration. Stories about love and the pain of leaving/losing loved ones.
So very many new beginnings—some casual, others poignant—all conveying the message that, by remembering, we learn from the past and that, on extremely rare occasions, the past and the present can come together and be felt as one in special, tangible ways. Like a picture and a shofar.
'Blowing the shofar with all his might, Mark . . . felt that everyone could hear it. No, not just the people in the sanctuary, but everyone . . . to the very spot where his shofar came from, where his great-great-grandpa Avram sat, with his eyes tightly shut, in the synagogue, listening to his favorite sound.'
Using real people as her models, Canadian illustrator Laurie McGaw's full color, detailed pictures convey the gentle, sometimes wistful, tenderness of the text, its sense of connectedness, respect, and inner joy. In sum, Avram's Gift is a delightful Yom Kippur family story.
Added features include an afterword and a glossary. The afterword relates the story of Gary Stein, the model for the shofar blower in Avram's Gift, and discusses some aspects of buying and blowing a shofar. The glossary contains pronunciation tips for the Yiddish and Hebrew words used in the text.
From my family to yours, may Yom Kippur's new beginnings be a blessing for all of Israel. SHERYL HURST FERDINAND NEWS AND SPENCER COUNTY LEADER Avram's Gift is sure to be another seasonal classic—the season is Rosh Hashanah. The story told from her own true-life experience, author Margie Blumberg gives life to a little boy named Mark, who yearns to blow the shofar.
Mark moves into a new home, where his parents plan to mount an ancient picture of his great-great-grandfather Avram in the hallway, right next to Mark's bedroom. Mark dislikes the picture immensely and fears walking past the stern, glaring stranger each day.
The first day of Rosh Hashanah, Mark's Nana and Grandpa Morris visit. The portrait of Grandpa Avram brings back many fond memories for Morris.
Morris tells of living with his Grandpa Avram after his own father left Russia for America to make a better life for Morris and his family.
What Mark discovers is Grandpa Morris was once a boy filled with dreams, just like himself. He learns the stern man in the picture was truly a loving grandfather . . . who gave his most treasured possession to his grandson before the family left for America, never again to see their beloved grandparents.
The book details traditional Yiddish customs, holiday meals and Jewish religious ceremonies, with a handy glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish terms, pronunciations and definitions to help the unaccustomed reader. In the paperback edition, there is also a copy of the author's favorite Honey Cake recipe.
Beautiful watercolor artwork adds to the realistic aura of these heart-tugging tales, told through the memories of the grandfather. Young Mark's anguish and how he prevails make this book rate a nine.