My favorite book among the five in this review is “The Very Best Sukkah.” The book reminds me of the movie, New Muslim Cool, in that they both tell the story of people not often identified with the religion in which they follow. In the film, it was New York Puerto Ricans who are Muslims. In Sukkah, it’s Ugandans who are Jewish.
What makes Sukkah extra special is that it’s written by Shoshani Nambi, who will become the first female rabbi in Uganda in 2024. This group of African Jews, the Abayudaya, are not to be confused with the Lemba people of Zimbabwe, whose century of oral stories have told of their connections to Israel. (See Even Some Whites Preach That Africans are God’s Chosen People).
“Sukkah” is full of large colorful illustrations by Moran Yogev that simply tell the story of a community celebration and the role of the Sukkah, a temporary structure for the celebration of Sukkot, which commemorates the 40 years the Jewish spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land after escaping slavery in Egypt. The structure recalls the Jewish buildings as they traveled in the desert from Egypt to Israel.
While children will learn about the lives of another group of children, I think adults will be challenged to rethink what they have learned. However, at the end of the delightful story is reference information including a short history of the Abayudaya and a glossary.
Another memorable story is “Somebody to Love” by performing artist Valeria June. She also performs on the Kennedy Center’s Millennial Stage, January 7 in person and live-stream. Tickets for the in person performance are always free on the day of the show at the box office, but you can book tickets in advance online.
The book is about dreams, the dreams of her banjolele to sing. Through her instrument, the book encourages children to dream and believe in oneself to make their wishes come true. The story, of course, is not unique, e.g. “The Little Train that Could,” but the illustrations by Marcela Avelar add to making this book an absolute delight.