About the Holiday
Even though we’re saying goodbye to Read a New Book Month, families don’t have to stop seeking out new books at their local bookstore or library. In fact, fall and the lead-in to the holidays is one of the busiest times of the year for publishers as they release wonderful books that share traditions and take readers through the winter in thoughtful, funny, and always surprising ways. Maybe that’s why December is also tagged as Read a New Book Month! Really, there’s never a time when you don’t want to celebrate new books—like today’s!
Thanks go to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a digital copy of Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.
Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile
Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Debby Rahmalia
Gracie always loves when Bubbe comes to visit, but this time Bubbe was too sad to do the things she and Gracie usually did together because her husband had died. She didn’t feel like doing yoga or making jokes. “She hardly even smiled.” Gracie missed all the things she used to do with Zayde too—talks about science and sharing inside jokes.
Gracie tried different things to make Bubbe happy again. She asked if she’d like to sing while Gracie played the guitar, if she’d like to come to her soccer game, or help her draw a picture. But each time, Bubbe just said “‘No thank you, Bubala.'” This answer got Gracie thinking. “She knew bubbe meant ‘grandma’ in Yiddish. And zayde meant ‘grandpa.'” But she didn’t know what bubala meant. When Gracie asked Bubbe, she explained that “‘it means “little grandmother. …But you call someone you love “bubala.”‘”
Then Bubbe sighed and told Gracie how much she and Zayde “‘loved using Yiddish words together.'” Gracie wanted to learn Yiddish words too, and asked Bubbe to teach her. They went into the kitchen, and while Bubbe cut up an apple, she taught Gracie the word nosh. “‘It means “eat a snack.”‘” As Gracie noshed on her apple, she thought she saw Bubbe smile just a little.
That night Bubbe taught Gracie how to say “good night” in Yiddish, and the next day when Gracie came home from school she wanted to walk around the neighborhood like they used to, but Bubbe said she didn’t feel like it. Gracie persisted, pulling on her hand and telling her how beautiful it was outside. Bubbe had to admit that it was sheyn. Gracie was excited to understand this Yiddish word for “beautiful” because Zayde often called her sheyna meidala or “pretty girl.” Bubbe conceded and put on her sneakers.
Once outside, Bubbe even started jogging a little and taught Gracie another Yiddish word when Gracie asked her to slow down. As the week went on, Gracie and Bubbe began talking about their memories of Zayde. Bubbe even decided to go to Gracie’s next soccer game. At the game Bubbe smiled and even cheered when Gracie scored a goal, and back home they laughed together when Bubbe told Gracie her socks were “‘… so farshtunken, my nose might explode!'”
“‘Bubbe! You’re laughing!'” Gracie cried. And Bubbe had to agree and told Gracie it was for a very special reason. “‘Because you give me naches. That means ‘joy.'”
Back matter includes a short Author’s Note about the Yiddish language as well as a glossary of Yiddish words that includes and expands on the words found in the story, their meaning in English, and a pronunciation for each of them.
Jane Sutton’s poignant story will touch readers’ hearts on many levels, from a child and grandmother overcoming grief to the passing on of family heritage to the way children bring a healing kind of joy through their exuberance, empathy, and love. Sutton’s storytelling hits all the right notes as she depicts Bubbe’s transition from mourning to joy over superbly paced scenes and seamlessly introduces Yiddish words through Gracie and Bubbe’s authentic conversations while also demonstrating the family’s strong bond of love and trust. Dialogue rich, the story makes a perfect read aloud that will excite kids about learning the Yiddish words along with Gracie and prompt families to talk about their own history.
In her vibrant illustrations, Debby Rahmalia lets young readers see through Gracie’s viewpoint how Bubbe’s sadness affects her and how much she wants to help her grandmother find happiness again. As Gracie does yoga while Bubbe stands by and shares a silent dinner with her usually talkative grandmother, Gracie’s expressions register concern and disappointment. In Gracie’s attempts to enlist Bubbe in doing their usual activities, Rahmalia portrays not only Gracie’s strong connection with Bubbe, but also a realistic look at how loss can affect emotions and physical energy. When Gracie hits on learning Yiddish as a way to interact with Bubbe, Rahmalia effectively shows how Bubbe’s smile, enthusiasm, and laughter return as she and Gracie share the language and memories of Zayde.
Touching, reassuring, and joyful, Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile comforts and restores while celebrating family love and generational ties. The book would be a meaningful addition to home bookshelves for all families and one school and public librarians will want in their picture book or family issues collection.
Ages 4 – 7
Albert Whitman & Company, 2022 | ISBN 978-0807510230
Read a New Book Month Activity
Gracie Brings Back Bubbe’s Smile Matching Puzzle
Gracie loved learning Yiddish words from Bubbe! With this puzzle you can learn the Yiddish words from the book too. Just print the puzzle and match each word with its definition to get started using these words yourself!
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