Reading with Talia: Looking for Me

Posted on May 23rd, 2019 by

Our Visitor Services Coordinator, Talia Makowsky, is highlighting books currently available in our shop, Esther’s Place. Today’s featured book is Looking for Me in this Great Big Family by Betsy R. Rosenthal. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


In the book Looking for Me in this Great Big Family, Edith Paul is trying to figure out who she is. As a young girl growing up in Depression-era Baltimore, it’s hard enough for Edith to learn what kind of person she wants to become. To make it more complicated, Edith has a big family. There are twelve children, to be exact. With six boys and six girls, Edith is stuck right in the middle of them all.

Situated in the midst of all these different personalities, Edith writes poems to help express how she feels about her family, the good and the bad. The book, based on true stories from the author’s mother, is a collection of these lyrical poems. The poems in the book are all from the perspective of Edith over the course of a year, as she laments the ending of summer, stands up to the school bully, and tries her best to take care of her younger siblings.

This sweet book is an easy and honest read, perfect to share with your family!

Rosenthal’s writing is personable and honest. These poems feel authentic, especially since they are based on true stories. In addition, Edith shares her emotions freely with us, even if she’s feeling upset with her family members or with her situation in life. She doesn’t shy away from these moments of frustration, admitting that she’s gotten angry when her little brothers and sisters don’t listen to her. Edith also openly shows us her desire to figure out who she is, in her great big family. She compares herself to her older siblings, revealing what she admires about them or what she dislikes. She also imagines the life of her friends, especially the ones who don’t have as many brothers and sisters. Edith wonders what it would be like to not have to share the bed with her sisters, or to have brand-new shoes instead of hand-me-downs.

Despite her complaints, Edith’s family is the central part of her life. We can see this, as she’s incredibly conflicted when she finds out the history of how her Bubby came to America without her mother. Edith decides to avoid her in order to punish Bubby Etta. But Edith’s promise to not talk to her Bubby becomes harder as she misses stopping by on her way home from school, especially wanting the special treats her Bubby makes just for her.

This theme of family, and all the complications involved in loving her family, is a big part of what Edith tries to figure out, as she figures out herself. She likes being known as the “good little mother”, helping out with chores and younger siblings. However, she questions whether she deserves this title when she gets mad at her younger sister over a misunderstanding. Edith’s feelings come to a head when she loses a member of her family. Her reactions to this moment underscore how difficult it is to manage the stress of everyday life when normalcy is lost. However, this situation leads Edith to find new ways to connect with her family, and even help her to figure out who she wants to become.

This book is a thoughtful and easy read, making it a perfect gift for younger folk around the ages of 10 – 12. It’s also a great glimpse into the history of Baltimore, especially in a neighborhood like Jonestown, with the unique perspective of Edith leading the way. It even features photos of the real Edith Paul, as Betsy Rosenthal recounts what it was like to collect these stories. I found it easy to relate to Edith, even with our own differences, as she shares her desire for belonging and identity. I recommend it to anyone, older or younger, who’s interested in an honest and caring voice, of a girl trying to understand the world and how she fits in.

Come check out this, and many more books, in our Museum gift shop! We often have new additions to our collection.


Interested in picking up the book today? Stop by Esther’s Place, the gift shop at the Jewish Museum. We have it ready for you to grab or to gift to someone else!


 

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Passover is a community effort at Esther’s Place!

Posted on April 1st, 2019 by

A blog post by JMM Office Manager and Shop Assistant Jessica Konigsberg. For more posts from Jessica, click HERE.


This year, Passover shopping has been going strong at JMM’s Esther’s Place since February, with visitors inquiring about gifts and Judaica well before Passover merchandise officially graced the Shop floor. Passover is the holiday that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt and is celebrated this year from April 19 to April 27.

At Esther’s Place, helping visitors find the perfect gift (whether for a loved one, or themselves!) is one of our favorite things to do. Our staff and volunteers are passionate about engaging with visitors and figuring out exactly what each person needs and how we can help. Esther’s Place staff take note of special requests and feedback and make sure it informs our purchasing decisions year to year. Our efforts are the collective result of input and creativity from volunteers and staff, requests and ideas from visitors, and valued relationships with vendors old and new.

Last year, we learned our visitors wanted more options for Haggadah (the Passover Seder text), particularly for younger readers. In response, we expanded our selection to appeal to a range of ages, Seder styles, and price points. Our selection this year includes the 30minute Seder (an affordable option with bright, engaging illustrations), My Very Own Haggadah (for younger readers), popular choice The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah, and A Family Haggadah II: A Seder Service for All Ages. We also tried the Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel by Jordan B. Gorfinkel and Erez Zadok and have already sold the copies we ordered!

We were also delighted to pursue the recommendation of our resident book advisor—volunteer docent Howard Davidov—who recommended a cookbook with year-round and Passover-styled recipes featuring the culinary star of the Seder table: matzo (unleavened bread). Find tasty-looking recipes for matzo nachos, matzo pizza, and more in Matzo: 35 Recipes for Passover and All Year Long. (Howard also recommends perennial Esther’s Place favorite Did Jew Know!)

We also received a call from an old vendor, Cookie & Nudge Books, with a recommendation to offer the new book Gracie’s Passover Surprise—a gorgeous, color-filled paperback about forging new traditions while honoring old ones. Don’t forget to grab a few Gracie and Max-themed coloring pages when you purchase your copy.

In addition to helping visitors select Haggadot, it has been our pleasure to recommend Passover toys and games to inspire both fun and learning. And did you know that six of our popular “Macca Bean” soft toys are specialty themed to celebrate Passover? We have Muttzah, Gefilte, and Maroar to name a few.

The beautiful thing about holiday shopping at Esther’s Place is that visitors need not feel restricted to holiday items. We have many meaningful products that capture the essence of a tradition or story. For example, we have many children’s books that speak to Passover themes of freedom, redemption, and beginnings. Thank you to a recent visitor for reminding me how widely our books’ themes can apply!

Additionally, visitors can add creative flair to their Seder tables this Passover by exploring our tableware and finding the perfect bowl for horseradish or tray for matzo. Thank you to the Shop volunteers for helping me think creatively about what qualifies as Passover Judaica!

Esther’s Place volunteers have made enormous contributions in celebrating Passover in the Shop this year from suggesting creative ways to merchandise tableware items, to re-imagining our children’s section to highlight imagination and fun, to helping every Seder plate put its best (figurative) foot forward and shine alongside complementary Kiddush cups, candlesticks, saltwater bowls and more. Thank you Rachel, Maxine, Seth, and Laraine!

When visitors ask about or comment on our buying process I often tell them that we have “a lot of fun” doing it. This is true of course, but the real fun occurs when we have the chance to share the work with our community of visitors and benefit from their valuable feedback.

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All about identity at Esther’s Place this Purim

Posted on February 28th, 2019 by

A blog post by JMM Office Manager and Shop Assistant Jessica Konigsberg. For more posts from Jessica, click HERE.


When envisioning our 2019 Esther’s Place Purim celebration within the programming year ahead, it occurred to me that Purim (March 20 – 21 this year) is a celebration of identity and story—two themes that resonate across our upcoming exhibits and programs.

Last year, Purim was new to me so I wrote about our Esther’s Place noisemakers (or groggers), intended to drown out the name of villain Haman during the reading of the Book of Esther of Megillah. This year, I’m keen to learn about the creative, personal aspects of the holiday—the costumes, the lessons, the big themes—and how these fit into our work at JMM.

Storytelling is an evergreen theme at JMM and Esther’s Place. And March is National Reading Month—a fine time to stop by Esther’s Place Shop and explore our selection of engaging titles featuring characters ranging from the mischievous “Five Little Gefiltes” to the tenacious suffragists of Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour.

Celebrate National Reading Month this March at Esther’s Place at JMM.

Stories captivate our hearts and imaginations because they often contain struggles and triumphs, heroes and villains, honorable and wicked intentions, bravery, loyalty, secrecy, sacrifice, and difficult decisions. They can comfort and inspire, distract and entertain, and allow audiences to safely try on new ideas and identities. For young children, storytelling through dramatic play fosters understanding of the world and themselves.

The Purim story takes place in ancient Persia where a Jewish woman named Esther is chosen against her will as Queen to the King Ahasuerus. Mordecai, a Jewish man who raised Esther, angers Ahasuerus’s Prime Minister Haman by refusing to bow before him, and Haman responds by plotting a violent revenge against the Jewish people. Esther bravely exposes her Jewish identity and successfully appeals to the King, saving her people.

The Purim story abounds with concealed identities, dramatic revelations, and miracles disguised as ordinary events. And in keeping with the theme of hiding, children and adults often celebrate Purim by wearing costumes and concealing their identities as Esther did.

Costumes offer new, temporary identities but still reveal truths about the wearer. In April, we’ll explore how we telegraph our identities through fashion and clothing with new exhibit Fashion Statement. What are some of your favorite Purim costumes from years past and what did they reveal (or hide) about you?

I remember learning in elementary school that good stories typically feature a dramatic complication followed by a satisfying resolution. Purim seems to be a holiday celebrating this triumphant resolution. In reality, we might be at the beginning of a story, or perhaps in the middle—but once a year for those who observe, the chance comes to make noise; don new identities; and celebrate victory, diversity, and strong women (yes!).

Here are just some of the fun items available at Esther’s Place this Purim, perfect for dramatizing the Purim story, and engaging the young Purim revelers in your lives.

We offer numerous identity-inspired items that make excellent Purim host gifts. Celebrate a shared identity with our funny custom Jewish Baltimore souvenirs or delightful Mah-jongg products, including key rings with your favorite tiles! We also have a great selection of cookbooks and other thoughtful items to provide inspiration for Purim gift baskets.

And our selection of children’s books and toys offer great inspiration for costumes!

I wish all who celebrate Purim a joyful holiday that is also creative, inclusive, playful, and surprising. And make sure to stop by and ask our staff and volunteers for their National Reading Month recommendations this March!

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