A Moon for Moe and Mo

Jane Bre­skin Zal­ben; Mehrdokht Ami­ni, illus.
  • Review
By – October 29, 2018

It’s rare that the hol­i­days of Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan occur at the same time. In fact, since Mus­lims use a pure­ly lunar cal­en­dar and Jews use a lunar cal­en­dar adjust­ed for the solar year, the hol­i­days only coin­cide around once every thir­ty years. In A Moon for Moe and Mo, the effect that this coin­ci­dence has on the lives of two ordi­nary boys liv­ing at oppo­site ends of Brooklyn’s Flat­bush Avenue forms the premise of a sur­pris­ing­ly mov­ing sto­ry. The sur­prise lies in the way that Zal­ben and Ami­ni avoid cre­at­ing an inspir­ing utopi­an para­ble, instead offer­ing an under­stat­ed tale of mutu­al respect and affec­tion between two friends and their fam­i­lies — each who are enmeshed in their own cul­tures, but are open to the beau­ty of difference.

Zal­ben and Ami­ni illus­trate the many par­al­lels between the boys, their fam­i­lies, and their cul­tur­al prac­tices, com­mu­ni­cat­ing the beau­ty of coex­is­tence in a love­ly and sub­tle way. Zal­ben tells us that Moe and Mo look relat­ed to one anoth­er, with their curly dark hair … brown eyes … [and] olive skin.” A two-page spread shows Moe and his moth­er, Mrs. Feld­man, prepar­ing tra­di­tion­al foods in their kitchen, as Mo and Mrs. Has­san do the same in theirs. The boys make a mess in each of their kitchens, with pas­try dough every­where” and chopped dates on the floor.”

Although a detailed expla­na­tion of Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan is includ­ed in the after­word, the sto­ry itself empha­sizes cus­toms rather than reli­gious beliefs or rit­u­als. Food in par­tic­u­lar is shown to be an impor­tant ele­ment that links the boys and their cul­tures; the Rosh Hashanah rugelach are shaped like cres­cent moons, and, lat­er in the sto­ry the same moon watch[es] over both boys as they [sleep].” Col­lages on the end­pa­pers visu­al­ize the sig­nif­i­cance of Mid­dle East­ern food — apri­cots, car­damom, saf­fron, dates, mint, and olives — as a point of con­nec­tion for Jews and Mus­lims. Recipes for the rugelach and date cook­ies from the sto­ry are includ­ed at the end, along with a heart­felt note from Zal­ben and Ami­ni about how their own expe­ri­ences led to them cre­at­ing this story.

The boys’ fathers enter at the story’s end, when the two fam­i­lies enjoy a pic­nic in the park under the stars. Amini’s palette of bright col­ors and earth tones forms the back­ground to a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty with real­is­tic details. This is not a fairy tale set­ting, but a real New York City with halal restau­rants, bagel shops, taxis, and nail salons.

A Moon for Moe and Mo is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for read­ers from 3 to 8. Old­er chil­dren and adults will also appre­ci­ate the book’s message.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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