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.