Siding Into the New Year
136 pp. Yotzeret Publishing. $8.95
Ellie Silver is thrill-loving public school fifth-grader in the first weeks of new school year. Everyone away from home calls her Ellie, but the mishpacha calls her “YaYa,” which is how her Hebrew name, Yael, came out of her twin brother’s mouth when they were toddlers. His name is Joel/Yoel, and his family name is “YoYo,” but these two siblings are anything but a matched set.
YaYa is always running late. Her room is such a mess that long-missing sandwiches and apples can be found in her closet. Her curly hair is perpetually snarled, but she can’t find her favorite cap to hide her hair for the day. She talks to her friends during class at Hebrew school, and mishears “repentance and t’shuvah” from the rabbi’s lesson on Rosh Hashanah as “three pens and a shoe box.” And she observes her fading summer freckles with disdain because she wishes she had them all year.
YoYo loves to tell jokes, and plays a few pranks as well. He’s a good student at school and in the synagogue. He always has YaYa’s back, but that doesn’t keep him from being annoyed by his sister’s insistence on calling him “little brother,” even though he was born only minutes after she was. And freckles dot YoYo’s face all the time.
‘Sliding Into the New Year’ is YaYa’s story. Within the first pages of the book, the protagonist a is presented with a dilemma when a friend invites her along on a family excursion to Splash World, the brand-new theme park with an amazing water slide that just opened in town. It turns out that there is a reason school was already cancelled on the day of the Splash World trip: Rosh Hashanah.
As the story unfolds, YaYa schemes to convince her parents that it’s okay for her to go to Splash World on Rosh Hashanah, because the Conservative family observes a whole second day of the holiday. Along the way, YaYa learns about the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and considers what the family traditions that accompany the holiday mean to her.
In the end, YaYa may not get what she thought she wanted, but she makes a deeper connection to her Jewish identity. YaYa realizes that her family traditions are pretty cool, and that she’s part of a wider and diverse Jewish community that shares much of her experience.
Writing for readers aged 8-14 years, the author ably captures the voice of contemporary tweens. When YaYa’s almost-13-year old brother lies about working on the Torah portion for his upcoming bar mitzvah in order to get out of doing chores, she rats him out and then triumphantly comments to the reader “…there’s nothing like busting your obnoxious older brother to make your day so much better.” The book is filled with plenty more irreverent jokes and one-offs (all rated G, yet not corny) that are sure to appeal to young readers.
The adults in YaYa’s world – parents, grandparents, teachers, a bus driver and a rabbi – are warm and caring, and occupy a supportive space along the periphery of the story. From an adult point of view YaYa’s parents practice good parenting. They manage to maintain appropriate expectations and boundaries for a Jewish home, while having close, fun-filled relationships with their kids.
In the course of telling the story, the author provides a lot of information about Rosh Hashanah, but always with a light touch. ‘Sliding Into the New Year’ is packed full of simple explanations of holiday traditions that will be helpful to young readers from many different types of Jewish backgrounds backgrounds – or for non-Jewish kids who are curious about Jewish life.
Dori Weinstein sat down with TC Jewfolk to talk about YaYa and YoYo, and her writing process. The author knows Jewish education and kids. She grew up in Queens, NY and is a graduate of Teachers College at Columbia University. After teaching in the New York City public schools, she settled in the Twin Cities and for several years taught third grade at Talmud Torah of St. Paul Day School.
As a teacher, Weinstein was always on the lookout for fiction that portrayed kids living Jewish lives. The majority of the books that she could find were written from an Orthodox point of view, leaving many students in her pluralistic school with a dearth of completely relatable Jewish characters. Additionally, any of the books that were for older readers were most commonly historical fiction, depicting the Holocaust or shtetl life.
“I was looking for books that told contemporary stories, and that kids from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds could relate to,” Weinstein said. Since she couldn’t find what she was looking for, she decided to write such a book herself. “I write for kids who are Jewishly committed, or for kids who are not completely connected to Jewish identity and are interested in learning more about Jewish tradition, or for anyone else who may enjoy a good story told from a Jewish viewpoint.”
It took her a few years of painstaking work. To get the tone and dialogue right, Weinstein would share drafts with kids in the target age group and ask them what they thought about what they read. She also took care to present the characters in a way that would allow parents and teachers across the spectrum of Jewish religious observance to endorse having their kids read the book.
Weinstein’s plan is to write 12 books about YaYa and YoYo, one for every month of the year. After the release of ‘Sliding Into the New Year’ in 2011, she followed up with ‘Shaking in the Shack’ in 2013. The second book in the series focuses on Sukkot, and is told from YoYo’s point of view. Weinstein’s intention is for series to be equal interest to girls and boys.
These books are highly recommended for the bookshelves of young readers, and the series is worth watching as Dori Weinstein creates new adventures in the Jewish lives of YaYa and YoYo.
‘Sliding Into the New Year,’ and ‘Shaking in the Shack’, are available at Elijah’s Cup in St. Louis Park, and at the large online book retailers.