"A joyful peek into Jewish life in a place that is likely to be unfamiliar to many American readers." --Booklist
"Young readers’ images of Jewish people will expand with this portrayal of the Abayudaya, Jews of color in contemporary Uganda...This joyful, colorful, and well-designed book will make children and adults want to jump up and join in the dance." --Sydney Taylor Shmooze
Ugandan artist John Baptist Tumuhaise brings a Jewish Ugandan village to life in this story of a young girl who is distracted from her Shabbat preparation chores by the lure of a dance troupe that comes to her village.
Young Miryam wakes to a bright morning and the many chores needed to help get ready for Friday night and Shabbat in her small Ugandan village. As readers follow her through her day, they learn elements of celebrating this weekly Jewish ritual that are both universal in Jewish culture and unique to the Jewish Ugandan community, the Abuyadaya, or Tribe of Judah. A glossary explains the names of ritual foods, Ugandan terms, and landmarks used in the story.
Miryam wakes to the sound of drums and is lured to the place where musicians and dancers are practicing. Along the way, her family and friends remind her to do tasks to prepare for Shabbat, and they sigh when she is forgetful. Clearly this is not the first time Miryam has been distracted. She is invited to perform with the dancers that evening. As Miryam twirls, skips and cartwheels, the lively prose and dynamic illustrations propel the reader from page to page, caught up in her exuberance. At first her family is hesitant about dancing, but Miryam encourages them to experience a new, joyful way to celebrate Shabbat.
The Ugandan character, Miryam, echoes the Miriam in the Exodus story, with her love of drums and dance, and her role of leading her community to dance with her. Although children may not catch this reference, it potentially builds a familiarity with the biblical Miriam.
Young readers’ images of Jewish people will expand with this portrayal of the Abayudaya, Jews of color in contemporary Uganda. The familiar sight of Shabbat ritual objects - candlesticks, wine and challah - set in a rural African village provides a welcome view of Jews in a context outside the experience of most American Jews.
The Jewish content makes this book a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. The rich back matter includes a note written by the chief rabbi of Uganda, a glossary of Lugandan words, and a recipe to cook plantains. This joyful, colorful, and well-designed book will make children and adults want to jump up and join in the dance. --Sydney Taylor Shmooze