Joy­ful Song: A Nam­ing Story

  • Review
By – June 11, 2024

Jew­ish nam­ing cer­e­monies for baby girls, once con­sid­ered less impor­tant than a boy’s brit milah, have received increased atten­tion in recent years. In Lesléa New­man and Susan Gal’s pic­ture book, one lit­tle girl and her moth­ers enjoy a beau­ti­ful and spir­it­ed wel­come to the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Excit­ed neigh­bors and friends are eager for the baby girl’s par­ents to reveal her name. Her moth­ers and old­er broth­er, Zachary, respond to their ques­tions with humor and imagination.

When Mama sug­gests that the baby will be called Lit­tle Bab­ka” because she is approx­i­mate­ly the size of that cake, Zachary adds that the baby is also just as sweet.” The text becomes a call and response, with dif­fer­ent names offered, until Mama and Mom­my final­ly reward everyone’s patience. Newman’s nar­ra­tive places a Jew­ish cus­tom in the con­text of one lov­ing fam­i­ly, their syn­a­gogue, and their neigh­bor­hood. Gal’s stun­ning pic­tures, sat­u­rat­ed with col­or and tex­ture, cap­ture a diverse community’s sense of antic­i­pa­tion. Gal exag­ger­ates everyone’s ges­tures and fea­tures in order to high­light their char­ac­ter. A two-page spread of the fes­tive kid­dush lun­cheon resem­bles a scene in a play, in which even the minor char­ac­ters are essential.

If you want to find out what Lit­tle Bab­ka, Snug­gle Bun­ny, Shayneh Maid­eleh is real­ly named, read this joy­ful book with the chil­dren in your life.

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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