Book Reviews

Almost A Minyan – Lori S. Kline & Susan Simon

almost-a-minyanAnd now for something completely different – children’s literature. Kline has packed her latest picture book, Almost A Minyan, almost to bursting with themes of Jewish prayer, community, mourning, ritual items and egalitarianism. Set in a small town that sometimes struggles to meet the quorum of 10 adults needed to make up the minyan, or quorum for community prayer, a young girl observes her father’s daily participation. Unabashedly egalitarian, both in the narrative and illustrations, the full inclusion of women in the minyan is presented as normative. Families and organizations who share this view are especially likely to appreciate this depiction of Jews and their communities that reflect their realities.

On a slightly discordant note, Klein uses the Yiddish terms, spellings, and pronunciations for most Jewish labels, for example, “synagogue” is always “shul”. While these insider terms seem to contradict the book’s commitment to inclusion, Klein’s consistency in their use, as well as their repetition in the story, quickly familiarizes them to readers who are not of Ashkenazic descent. A glossary at the end of the book provides clear descriptions of these terms and their linguistic origins – a phonetic pronunciation guide could also be a helpful tool.

Simon’s detailed illustrations are vibrant and contribute strongly to the emotional impact of the story. Their bright colors and realism will capture younger readers, making this book an excellent choice for families with children of different ages. A single caveat is that the story deals directly with the death of a close family member. Parents and caregivers should use their judgment and evaluate its appropriateness for their intended audiences. On the other hand, Kline and Simon’s treatment of the topic give their work the potential to be an empowering resource for grieving families.

Together Kline and Simon have crafted a book about Jewish life that is accessible, thoughtful, and memorable. Children will enjoy being carried away by the illustrations and rhyming language. Parents and educators will appreciate the detail and opportunity to share pictures and words that reflect the richness of Jewish ritual and community. It is well worth a look by librarians and community organizations who seek to add cultural diversity to their children’s collections. All told, Almost a Minyan is a solid example of children’s literature that will give readers the ultimate gift – the opportunity to create memories of learning together.

For more information about this book and to pre-order, go to the Publisher’s website Books and Blintzes received an advance review copy for the purposes of writing this review.

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