Alte Zachen by Ziggy Hanaor and Benjamin Phillips

Values: Acceptance, Love and Respect.

Firstly, I must thank Cicada Books who kindly sent me a copy of Alte Zachen - their first graphic novel. In my eyes, it is a resounding success: I've read it a few times already and feel like I delve deeper into the story a little more each time. This blog picks a few Values which you could use in conjunction with the book, but they are by no means an exhaustive list.

The book is based on the story of Benji and his grandmother, 'Bubbe', as they venture across New York in search for ingredients for their Friday night dinner. [It might even be worth exploring the significance of Friday Night Dinner to the Jewish community, and looking at some of the foods mentioned in the book before reading it. I am planning on bringing some babka into my class when we read the book, to immerse ourselves in the experience.] As the two go off in search for the foods in various parts of the city, the reader watches as Benji and Bubbe view the city through different lenses. Bubbe seeks out her favourite Jewish foods in her Jewish bakeries, and other shops, that she has been visiting since moving to New York after WW2. She cannot believe how much the city has changed, and makes her opinions known. Benji, who has grown up there tries to appease his grandmother - explaining that there are new and different ways of doing things. A lovely feature of the book are the flashbacks that Bubbe has: giving the reader an insight into why she may have these views. I also loved the Yiddish vocabulary that is scattered across the story, making us really believe the conversations and empathise with the characters.

I think the first Value that springs to mind, and in fact is mentioned in the blurb, is acceptance. Bubbe finds it challenging sometimes to be accepting of people and changes that she is unfamiliar with. Her grandson, Benji, is perhaps more open-minded and challenges some views that Bubbe holds. It is not only people that Bubbe needs to learn to accept: it is that lifestyles are constantly changing and young people have new and different ways of living. At one point, Benji suggests they get a taxi and pulls out his smart phone to track the driver on his app. Bubbe cant believe this 'frivolous' attitude and changing technology. However, she agrees and we slowly see Bubbe coming round to a more modern way of living. It might be interesting to talk to children about how cultures, times and people have different ways of doing things. Do we accept when these lifestyles don't necessarily 'match' our own? Have they ever been on holiday somewhere where the culture is different? Maybe we could talk about celebrating change rather than tolerating it.

Secondly, the Value of love shines through. Bubbe can be sharp with Benji and scold him for his attitudes and behaviours. Equally, he is shocked at some of the things she says to people. However, they are on the journey side by side and teach each other generational differences. Despite their differences, they don't leave each other's side. Benji even lays down in the park with Bubbe and shows her that the sky stays the same, even if the people and urban landscape changes. It's a beautiful connection moment in the book. We also find out that Bubbe's first love, Gershon, is still living in New York and the two have an emotional reunion, with glimpses back to their past as young people. Despite Bubbe's cantankerous attitude, Benji is interested to understand more of her past and the two become closer and Bubbe tells Benji her story as they make their way round the city.

A third Value that could easily be explored is the idea of respect. Benji respects his grandmother, but also tries to teach her that attitudes and behaviours are changing. This is everything from taking their own bags shopping to help the environment to not judging people by their appearance. Bubbe gradually listens and learns from Benji, and we see a sentimental moment at the end between the two. We talk so often in schools about having respect for everyone - regardless if you agree with everything they do and say. This is a brilliant example of just that. It's also good to see Benji challenging his grandmother when she is being disrespectful though... not always something we see in books.

I have really enjoyed this graphic novel and will read it to my Year 6s in a couple of weeks. It will allow us to revisit some of our knowledge about WW2, immigration and Jewish culture all of which we have touched upon this year. The children will, no doubt, have different interpretations and reflections to those that I have had and I will enjoy hearing their ideas too.

You can grab a copy from Cicada who have a wealth of picture books, non-fiction and fiction. The quality is always fabulous!

If you would like to see other books on the blog with the same Values, click on the links: