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.