Monday, July 13, 2009

Mrs. Katz and Tush

Patricia Polacco writes heartwarming children's stories that stay with you long after you've put the book down. Today I'm going to write about Mrs. Katz and Tush, but there will be posts in the future that talk about some of her other books.

Mrs. Katz and Tush remains one of my favorite books from my own children's early years. It tells the story of an elderly Jewish woman and a young African-American boy, and the unlikely friendship that develops between them. Mrs. Katz lives alone, and one day Larnel goes with his mother to visit her. Larnel's mother explains to him that Mrs. Katz's husband has just died, and she is lonely. Larnel sees how sad she is and asks her if she'd be interested in taking in a kitten that nobody wants. Mrs. Katz agrees, but only if he will help her raise the cat, whom she eventually names Tush. Thus begins a lifelong friendship between the two of them.

Larnel visits Mrs. Katz every day after school and she tells him stories about the old country, her husband Myron, as well as different Jewish customs. She tells him about the days when Jews weren't allowed in certain places and Larnel remembers stories from his grandmother, and realizes that their cultures have a lot of similarities. Slowly Larnel and Mrs. Katz become like a family to one another.

Mrs. Katz and Tush does a nice job of both honoring our differences, while at the same time pointing out our similarities. It gives a snapshot into Jewish life, and deals with life cycle events as well as the holidays of Chanukah and Passover. There will be some unfamiliar words like kugel, huppa and kaddish, but they are placed in context and children should be able to understand their meaning.

Polacco is a masterful storyteller and her books are filled with memorable characters and a lot of emotion. I have to admit I have never been able to read Mrs. Katz and Tush out loud without my voice catching in a particular place towards the end of the book. It's one of those books that can be savored over and over again.

BookNosher Activity: The Reading Rainbow website has a couple of activities related to Mrs. Katz and Tush, as well as some related books. I especially like Wilford Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. It's an old favorite of mine that I'll have to post about soon!

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