Sadie’s Shab­bat Stories

  • Review
By – April 26, 2021

Warm is the word that imme­di­ate­ly comes to mind to describe Melis­sa Stoller’s pic­ture book about the qui­et com­pan­ion­ship between a girl and her grand­moth­er on Fri­day nights. As they set the table for the Sab­bath, Sadie asks to hear Nana’s sto­ries about three rit­u­al objects: the two can­dle­sticks for the can­dles they light; the kid­dush cup, which holds wine and grape juice; and the hand-sewn cloth that cov­ers the spe­cial chal­lah bread. His­to­ry and a fam­i­ly sto­ry lie behind each one.

Sadie loves hear­ing how the can­dle­sticks came back to Amer­i­ca after her grand­pa and his moth­er became stuck for months in Europe when they went to vis­it his grand­moth­er in 1913. The kid­dush cup trav­eled to New York in 1916 when her oth­er great-grand­pa and his younger broth­er fled pogroms in Rus­sia. The chal­lah cov­er, sewn by Nana’s moth­er, was passed along to her as a wed­ding present.

As Sadie lis­tens, she visu­al­izes the sto­ries. Fam­i­ly fig­ures from the past swirl gen­tly through the illus­tra­tions. Sadie won­ders if she will ever be able to tell sto­ries that are rich and full, like Nana’s. And then, as she fas­tens a home­made Star of David around Nana’s neck, Sadie tells her grand­moth­er how all the peo­ple from Nana’s sto­ries are present with them now around the table, join­ing their fam­i­ly cel­e­bra­tion of Shab­bat. This becomes Sadie’s sto­ry, the one her own chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will like to hear again and again.

Stoller’s strengths lie in her depic­tion of the cozi­ness of fam­i­ly and Jew­ish obser­vance, mean­ing­ful through gen­er­a­tions; Lisa Goldberg’s palette of soft salmon, cerulean, and can­taloupe col­ors echoes the mood. Sadie’s Shab­bat Sto­ries evolved from Stoller’s rela­tion­ship with her grand­moth­er, and in this book she paves an easy path for read­ers to explore arti­facts from their own fam­i­ly his­to­ries. Most­ly off­stage action and brief, but unde­fined, ref­er­ences to pogroms and closed coun­try bor­ders raise the lev­el of age and under­stand­ing of this book’s tar­get audience.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she has been help­ing stu­dents vis­it­ing 826 Valen­cia loca­tions around the city to write sto­ries and poems and get­ting adults up and retelling Jew­ish folk­tales to share with their own spin. 

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