November 27, 1997
"Milk and Honey: A Year of Jewish Holidays" (G.P. Putnam, $21.95)by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Louise August
Apples and honey, a spinning dreidel, a Red Sea parted -- all thevivid highlights in the Jewish holiday cycle -- get their due in thislively assemblage of poems, fables, stories, traditional songs andbrief forays into history and custom. The music is arranged by AdamStemple for easily played piano or guitar. Yolen's inclusion of oldstories is an especially welcome treat. There are Chassidic tales,stories from the Midrash, and folk tales from Eastern Europe. LouiseAugust's illustrations are so richly textured that readers will wantto run their fingers down the page. "Milk and Honey" is a solidaddition to a young child's Jewish library and a thoughtfulintroduction to the Jewish calendar, sure to be taken off the shelfagain and again throughout the year.
"Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story" (Lee & Low Books,$15.95) by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee
Gravity and earnestness pervade this endeavor, an account of theheroic rescue efforts of WWII-era diplomat Chiune Sugihara, the"Japanese Schindler" who bucked his superiors by issuing thousands oflife-saving visas to Jewish refugees from his consulate office inLithuania. The subject matter is an ambitious choice for anillustrated children's book. Mochizuki and Lee are obviously takenwith the drama and historical importance of the story, but,regrettably, they're not up to the challenge of making it come tolife.
The former's prose is uninspired, clunky and bone-dry. It's anaccurate enough factual accounting, told from the point of view ofHiroki Sugihara, the consul's eldest boy, but it rarely soars.Instead of suspense, confusion and high-stakes moral heroism, youngreaders get a strangely unaffecting dose of "Important Information,"the dreaded literary equivalent of Brussels sprouts. Lee'sillustrations are well made, but aside from a few pages that haunt orrivet us, most are excessively literal renderings of the story'saction, a style better suited to a courtroom artist. His decision touse only the varying shades of brown found in old sepia-tonedphotographs may distance the book's intended audience further.
Still, one wants to like this well-intentioned effort. Perhaps thebest setting for "Passage to Freedom" may be the classroom, whereteachers can introduce discussion and add visual elements to thismorally significant story. After all, Sugihara's courage proves, asHiroki Sugihara writes in the afterword, "that one person can make adifference."