Title: Yitzy Aims High
By Ann D. Koffsky
Whether as parents or as educators, we continually try to strike a balance between meeting children where they are and challenging them to learn and do more. When it comes to a choice of reading material, this problem is especially acute. For a child who is just learning to read independently, books need to contain manageable language and formatting but be interesting enough for the reader to want to make the effort of decoding and comprehending them in the first place.
“Leveled readers” and “chapter books” aimed at emerging readers (typically understood by publishers to mean children ages five through eight) are essential in bridging the gap between being read to and being a reader. Writing for this age group requires more effort than one might realize: attention to word choices, number of words and sentences per page, types of punctuation used, and illustrations that enhance but do not tell the story. There is a fair number of Jewish children’s books ostensibly aimed at the early reader age group, but not many that adhere to the format and language control that make such works effective for learning.
Yitzy Aims High by Ann Koffsky is a charming early chapter book that ought to be the beginning of a fun series – one that could help fill this valuable niche in the world of Jewish children’s literature.
Seven-year-old Yitzy has been waiting for his father in shul for what feels like seventeen hours – an experience most children will relate to! He is desperate for a way to pass the time until his Abba is done davening. Doing a mitzvah of some kind seems like the right idea for a child who is in shul but cannot daven on his own, so he settles for trying to kiss a nearby mezuzah. Unfortunately, Yitzy realizes that he is not tall enough to reach it on his own. His first efforts to solve the problem do not meet with success. With the help of his toy dragon and monkeys (who become very real in his imagination) and a kind elderly gentleman, Yitzy eventually works out a way both to kiss the mezuzah and to do another important mitzvah as well.
Yitzy Aims High is a sweet, low-key story, and the reading level and format (short chapters, sufficient white space on the page, a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end) are perfect for a child who is just beginning to tackle longer books on his or her own. The way Yitzy’s toys come to life in his imagination is nicely depicted in the illustrations, which are bright and friendly but not overdone. The toys’ zany attempts to help him solve his problem are amusing, and kids will relate to Yitzy’s struggles to do something grown-up and important while they are physically too small to accomplish it.
As a fun extension to this book, kids could be encouraged to come up with their own ways, either realistic or silly, to reach a high object. Both adults and children will appreciate the message that you might be unable to do some things without assistance right now, but there are also times when you can be the helper yourself.