Fleeing the Holocaust in Europe, Marcus moves with his family from Berlin to Shanghai, where he doubts this unfamiliar city will ever feel like home. But with help from his new friend Liang, and the answers to a rabbi's riddle, Marcus sets out to build a unique sukkah in time for the harvest festival of Sukkot.
I found myself tearing up as I read the conclusion of author Heidi Smith Hyde's story in Shanghai Sukkah, which explores the power of friendship across cultural and religious lines. Although aware of the refugee community that settled in Shanghai before and during World War II - Ed Young mentions how his family befriended and took in a Jewish refugee couple in his autobiographical The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China - this is the first story I have read that centers that experience. Author Heidi Smith Hyde, whose historical Hannukah tale, Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue, was set in Colonial Massachusetts, seems to have a passion for exploring lesser-known chapters of the Jewish experience. I'm so glad she penned Shanghai Sukkah, as it is a poignant and ultimately heartwarming tale, highlighting an aspect of history not always explored in American children's books. The accompanying artwork from Jing Jing Tsong is colorful and engaging, and a two-page afterword, complete with photographs, gives more information about the Jewish community in Shanghai. Recommended to anyone looking for children's stories featuring Jewish refugees in the WWII era, or the holidays of Sukkot and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Also recommended to anyone seeking stories about the beauty of cross-cultural friendship.
I knew the answer to the riddle right away, and I think many other readers will too, even some of the young listeners. It’s a great riddle and the riddles are a wonderful tradition.
The illustrations are lovely. In the illustrator bio section, it says: “Her technique, which layers color and texture, is influenced by her experiences working in traditional stone lithography and monoprints.” I think the art is beautiful.
There are two pages at the end with a historical note and photos, giving more information about Jewish refugees in Shanghai in the late 1930s-early 1940s.