For the first book in this 2015 Christmas countdown, I am so excited about this new book! It is a hilariously humorous book about Christmas from the eyes of a girl who doesn’t get to celebrate it. Here is Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein by Amanda Peet & Andrea Troyer, illustrated by Christine Davenier, 2015.
If you cannot tell from the name in the title, Rachel Rosenstein is Jewish. And as such, Christmas is not a thing in her house. But she happens to be the only one on her block and feels like the only one in her city who doesn’t get to take part in some way in the Christmas festivities.
She likes being Jewish, especially on the many fun Jewish holidays, but when Christmas comes around she cannot help but be envious. This year she gets desperate to participate. She writes a letter to Santa, visits him at the mall as a backup, and does some DIY decorating on Christmas Eve.
While Christmas doesn’t exactly turn out as she hopes, Rachel comes to realize that there are many great holidays and life can go on without Christmas for her, at least she hopes so.
I have many reasons why I really like this book. For starters, I can count on one hand how many Jewish picture books I own. I hadn’t really thought about this fact until I moved to NYC and being surrounded by Jewish culture and history in Manhattan has made it even more glaring. There have been several occasions where a restaurant or store have been closed because it is Saturday or a Jewish holiday I didn’t know about. And while it has made me surprised to think about the different calendar and schedule in a Jewish home, I hadn’t stopped to think what it must be like to live in a society that largely revolves around (mostly) Christian holidays. Especially Christmas! Goodness, the whole city has been decked in tinsel and Santa paraphernalia since before Thanksgiving. So I am excited to have a book that touches on Jewish holidays, even if only lightly on the surface of them which is totally appropriate from a kid’s point of view. Worldview awareness is something I highly appreciate and need to be better at pointing out and a book like this helps open the conversation.
(Side note: I had absolutely no idea who these two ladies were and their relation to Game of Thrones until I was linking up their bios to their names in the first paragraph. I’m not sure how I feel about this being a celebrity-authored book, but I didn’t pick it up because of that, so I’ll keep my opinions the same and be delighted that these two ladies wrote a great book!)
I also found the way the authors wrote this book to be quite hilarious, if not veering a little too far on the envy side. The last spread was quite a surprise to me as it abounds in unresolved feelings, but I actually like the less-than-tidy ending. Of course Rachel’s envy wouldn’t turn around completely in childhood. It is a unique ending, with some almost dark humor, that feels more real. I appreciate the honesty.
Another reason I like this book is the illustrations. I am not super familiar with Christine Davenier’s work (great interview with her at Miss Marple’s Musings), though I did recognize some of her other titles. But I really like the looseness of her illustrations and the broad color palette. Holiday books often revolve around the standard holiday colors, and it is refreshing to see more than red and green for Christmas, and white and blue for Hanukkah. Also, the expressions of Davenier’s characters are great! I love how few marks an illustrator needs to express so much. I think her work was a perfect choice for a book that needs to be seen as the humorous story it is.
Now, this post is much longer than my usual 25 Days of Christmas picture books posts because 1. this book is new. And 2. I have a giveaway! Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah from me to you! Thanks to Penguin Young Readers who provided me a review copy to check out, and also are offering two books to one of my lucky readers. You can keep one and give one to a friend. Or keep them both, no one will know but Santa perhaps! Ha!
To enter to win the duo copies, simply leave a comment below. Anything will do, though I would love to hear of any other great Jewish picture books you love. The giveaway is open until 11:59pm on Sunday, December 6, 2015 – which just so happens to be the first day of Hanukkah! (U.S. residents only please – sorry international friends!) *Update: the giveaway is now closed. The winner of both copies is comment #4 from Nicole! Thanks to all who commented!