The But­ton Box

  • Review
By – April 27, 2022

This live­ly mid­dle grade adven­ture has two young pro­tag­o­nists, cousins Ava and Nadeem. Ava is Jew­ish while Nadeem is Mus­lim, and a school bul­ly tor­ments them due to their reli­gious back­grounds. They tell their grand­moth­er, a con­sum­mate sto­ry-teller and very wise woman. She begins to tell them an ancient tale, but is inter­rupt­ed and the tale remains unfinished.

Granny Bue­na has a box of inter­est­ing old but­tons, some antique, one of which has the mag­i­cal prop­er­ty of trans­port­ing the chil­dren back in time. They find them­selves in ancient Moroc­co, becom­ing acquaint­ed with his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, as well as some of their own ances­tors. The authors con­struct a world filled with col­or and tex­ture that will spark the inter­ests of young read­ers of today. The sights, the scents, and the atmos­pheres of ancient bazaars and homes cre­ate an indeli­ble impres­sion with char­ac­ters clad in robes, scarves, and turbans.

One of the char­ac­ters, Abdul Rah­man, is a Mus­lim prince who is flee­ing boun­ty hunters and is in need of the chil­dren’s help to escape to safe­ty in Spain. They are hes­i­tant because they know that if they are caught, the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty will suf­fer the con­se­quences. Along with a brave, resource­ful cousin, they gath­er their courage and help facil­i­tate a dar­ing escape that indi­rect­ly, but clear­ly, paves the way for a gold­en age of peace and pros­per­i­ty for the Jews of Spain.

Upon reen­try to mod­ern times, Ava and Nadeem real­ize that they have learned not only a slice of his­to­ry but also about their own abil­i­ties to han­dle bul­lies as well as the impor­tance of a well-told tale.

A glos­sary of terms is append­ed, as well as an authors’ note dis­cussing the top­ics addressed in the book such as Sephardic Jew­ry, some parts of Span­ish his­to­ry, and the over­lap between folk­lore and his­tor­i­cal events.

The But­ton Box is the first in a pro­ject­ed series about time trav­el and history.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions