Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, January 3, 2015

At Sunset

Walking outside as twilight falls after days of gale warnings, the calm is wonderfully comforting.  Pieces of sky are elbowing aside the billowing clouds to show a soft golden glow.  Sunsets, as well as sunrises, hold promises.

Except for those nighttime marauders moving with utmost care, creatures of the natural world seek sanctuary in their homes.  This is the promise of quiet.  The workday for many people throughout the world has come to a close.  This is the promise of rest.

Sunsets on Friday signal the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath; continuing until nightfall on the next day.  This is the promise of celebration.  Chik Chak Shabbat (Candlewick Press, September 3, 2014) written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Kyrsten Brooker eloquently portrays the promise of kindnesses returned.  

Every Saturday, a wonderful smell wafted from apartment 5-A.

This delectable aroma traveled from the fifth floor to Tommy Santiago as he played his tuba on the fourth floor to Signora Bellagalli who bustled about cleaning on the third floor to Mr. Moon on the second floor who wrote his newest novel and all the way to the ground floor where grins grew on the faces of the Omar family as they smelled.  Each of these people knew what was coming.  They could hardly wait for the door to apartment 5-A to open.  

Goldie Simcha would open her arms wide inviting the Santiagos, Signora Bellagalli, Mr. Moon and the Omars to her table to enjoy her freshly made stew, cholent.  None were certain what made it so tasty but all good-naturedly offered opinions.  According to Goldie, who told them of Shabbat preparations shared with her grandmother, it was the things done while the stew simmered for a night and a day which gave it the special flavor.  

One Saturday something was not quite right.  No delicious odor left the fifth floor winding in and out the other apartments on the other floors.  When small Lali Omar knocked on Goldie Simcha's fifth floor door, Goldie said she had been too sick to start the cholent.  It needed to simmer for a night and a day.  

The neighbors were certain it wouldn't be Shabbat without cholent.  Not a word is shared from neighbor to neighbor but a door on the first floor and the doors to 2-B, 3-C and 4-D open as the true spirit of Shabbat spread.  Differences blend to create the secret ingredient. 

Certain smells can trigger powerful memories.  I really appreciate that Mara Rockliff uses the smell of the cooking cholent to introduce us to Goldie Simcha and the other tenants in the apartment building.  Their attempt to determine the best ingredient in the cholent is the perfect opportunity for Goldie to speak about her family traditions during this weekly celebration.  It explains Shabbat to readers in the best possible way.  

Rockliff uses the same rhythm established in the beginning to alert readers to a change in the typical Saturday.  When the neighbors respond to this variance the cadence appears again.  This technique ensures the story will remain in readers' memories.  Here are two small passage samples.

It curled into 4-D, tickling Tommy Santiago's nose as he played his tuba.

It slipped into 3-C, tempting Signora Bellagalli as she bustled around, dusting her teacups.

Rendered in oil paint and collage, the illustrations of Kyrsten Brooker, beginning on the matching dust jacket and book case, bring readers into the charm of the lives lead by the residents of this apartment building.  The swirl of steam from Goldie Simcha's cholent ties everything together.  On the back a separate picture set on a lighter background shows the steam drifting from the pot, lid removed, and a spoon and filled bowl next to it.

A darker and lighter shade of blue form a diamond pattern seen on the opening and closing endpapers. (This is the wallpaper in Goldie's apartment.)  An initial title page framed in blue scroll work on a white background showcases a small image of the ingredients used in making Goldie's cholent.  A lovely double-page illustration of Goldie looking out her apartment window at the cityscape, Shabbat candles lit, presents the more formal title and verso information.

Most of the illustrations span two pages unless the reader needs to pause or the pace of the narrative is shifting.  A color palette favoring blues, browns and creams adds warmth to each scene.  Several times the border used on the initial title page will frame other single page visuals; especially when Goldie is telling her neighbors about Shabbat with her grandmother.

One of my favorite illustrations is when we first see all eight people seated around Goldie Simcha's table eating her cholent.  The joy in a shared celebration is evident on all their faces.  The details in their dress, the dishes and silverware and facial expressions make readers feel as if they too are seated at this table.  

Despite the diversity in their ethnic backgrounds these eight people come together to observe a tradition united by their love of Goldie Simcha and her cholent.  Chik Chak Shabbat written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Kyrsten Brooker is a book serving several purposes.  It touches our hearts with its story of generosity.   It informs us about the Jewish Shabbat.  It is one more book which serves to illuminate those things people can have in common.  I highly recommend this title.

For more information about Mara Rockliff please follow the link embedded in her name to visit her website.  This link to the publisher's website gives you a peek at another illustration from the book. 

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