A surprising narrator and attention-grabbing color introduce young readers to a famous Hebrew song that Jews all over the world sing and dance to with overwhelming joy. From its birth as a Ukrainian shtetl niggun to its Israeli formal music notation and lyrics to its attachment to Jews worldwide, this energetic happy tune bursts forth from every page. In this picture book, we see it sung on myriad occasions, celebrating good times and promising hope in sad times.
The history of Hava Nagila is told to readers by the song itself, a novel way to share information. The song explains that it always wanted words, but when the words appear, no one is sure who wrote them, the transcribing musician or his student. Once this riveting melody attaches itself to the Hora dance, there is no stopping it. Every Jew everywhere hears and sings it: at weddings, at Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, during holidays, at concerts and conclaves, and even at the Olympics where it helps win a gold medal.
The lyrics appear in the illustrations, and the images reflect an ancient Eastern culture. The colors of the picture book are brilliant and strong, with radiant jewel tones dominated by blue. This blue is a color associated with the song; the illustrator, of Indian Jewish background, explains that the color was chosen for its connection to Judaism, as in a tallit and tzitzit, and for universality, as in the globe and the sky. Flowing format, unusual shapes, boundless energy, and a narrator that is the object of the book mesh together to imprint information on young readers who will not miss the hope and the joy of Hava Nagila.
Ellen G. Cole, a retired librarian of the Levine Library of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, is a past judge of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards and a past chairperson of that committee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excellence in Jewish Children’s Literature. Ellen is the recipient of two major awards for contribution to Judaic Librarianship, the Fanny Goldstein Merit Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroeder Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries of Southern California. She is on the board of AJLSC.