Ella KVELLe­phant and the Search for Bubbe’s Yid­dish Treasure

  • Review
By – April 18, 2023

When ele­phant sib­lings Ella and Eli spend an excit­ing day at the beach with their grand­par­ents, they are dis­tressed to learn a sad fact about old age. Some­times a lan­guage, if it is not spo­ken reg­u­lar­ly, can dis­ap­pear. When Bubbe con­fess­es that she can no longer access all the Yid­dish words she used in her younger years, Ella deter­mines to help her recov­er them. While many gems, such as nosh, shvitz, and chutz­pah, still pop up in con­ver­sa­tions with Bubbe, her grand­daugh­ter real­izes that she must race against time if she wish­es to accom­plish this goal.

More is at stake than words in this adven­ture. The bond between gen­er­a­tions is essen­tial: Bubbe is very impor­tant to Ella,” author-illus­tra­tor Jen Kost­man writes, and it is clear that Yid­dish is very impor­tant to Bubbe.” The illus­tra­tions alter­nate between depict­ing the peace­ful, real-life beach and Ella’s imag­i­nary voy­age to search for trea­sures. Dressed as a pirate, her ship tossed on the waves, Ella refus­es to give up, no mat­ter her frus­tra­tion. Oth­er ani­mals play a role, includ­ing a friend­ly sloth who is sell­ing a toy slinky, a gam­ing device, and the Big Book of Yid­dish. Through enter­tain­ing imagery, Kost­man rep­re­sents words as a pre­cious com­mod­i­ty that can be as elu­sive as a chest full of gold.

Ella ulti­mate­ly learns that the search is as impor­tant as the des­ti­na­tion. In fact, her con­cern for her grandmother’s well-being allows Bubbe to recon­nect with her past. Each small object depict­ed in the illus­tra­tions rep­re­sents a mean­ing­ful moment. The floor of Ella’s room is lit­tered with crayons, toys, and trad­ing cards; Bubbe’s speech is sim­i­lar­ly full of words like shlep, klutz, or bup­kes. An inter­gen­er­a­tional scene — show­ing Bubbe and Zeyde bring­ing milk and cook­ies while Ella teach­es Yid­dish to her younger broth­er — serves as a bridge. Ella’s mis­sion is on the way to being accomplished.

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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