Sun­day with Savta

Wiley Blevins, Eli­a­hou Eric Bokobza (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – December 10, 2021

A young boy is thrilled that his Israeli grand­moth­er, called Sav­ta, is vis­it­ing him and his fam­i­ly in New York City. Friends and rel­a­tives clam­or to see Sav­ta when she arrives, but Sav­ta saves Sun­day just for her grand­son, and they look for­ward to spend­ing some qual­i­ty time togeth­er. They pass some icon­ic New York land­marks on the way to a beau­ti­ful muse­um filled with Jew­ish art. Hang­ing on the walls is a spe­cial and unusu­al col­lec­tion, a series of paint­ings each depict­ing one of the Jew­ish hol­i­days. Each paint­ing is bright­ly col­ored and filled with con­tent but, even more impor­tant­ly, each is a jump­ing-off point for one of Sav­ta’s per­son­al sto­ries, sto­ries that reflect the life she has lived, sto­ries that she wants to pass along to her grand­son to enrich his world.

The Pesach paint­ing, for exam­ple, reminds Sav­ta of the fish that used to swim in the bath­tub of her home before the hol­i­day when she was a young girl. The fish was kept fresh in the water until it was ready to be pre­pared for the hol­i­day meals. The Sukkot paint­ing calls to mind Sav­ta’s broth­er’s fall from a lad­der while dec­o­rat­ing the sukkah, an evoca­tive piece of fam­i­ly lore. The Purim can­vas brings Sav­ta fond mem­o­ries of the Queen Esther cos­tume she wore as a child, the cos­tume of a young girl’s dreams. The Yom Ha-Atz­maut paint­ing reflects Sav­ta’s pride in her home­land, Israel.

When Sav­ta returns home, her grand­son looks for­ward to his upcom­ing trip to Israel, where he plans to cel­e­brate his bar mitz­vah but, by the time the trip arrives, Sav­ta is no longer alive to share in the impor­tant occa­sion. But Savta’s sto­ries don’t die! They live on in the mem­o­ries of her grand­son, and he knows he will car­ry these won­der­ful tales with him through­out his life and trans­mit them to future gen­er­a­tions. He places a stone on Sav­ta’s grave and makes a silent promise to her that she will live on through her stories.

The vivid­ly col­ored, sim­ple, but evoca­tive, illus­tra­tions mem­o­rably tell the sto­ry of Sav­ta and her grand­son. The char­ac­ters stand out from their back­grounds and have large expres­sive eyes that reflect the won­der of all they see. A sum­ma­ry of Jew­ish hol­i­days and cel­e­bra­to­ry mile­stones is append­ed, con­tain­ing sim­ple expla­na­tions that famil­iar­ize read­ers with var­i­ous facets of Jew­ish life. Fam­i­ly warmth, Jew­ish cel­e­bra­tions and hol­i­days, and a long-await­ed trip to Israel are the hall­marks of this sim­ple, edu­ca­tion­al sto­ry that warms the heart.

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