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Rifka Takes a Bow


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About the Author

Betty Rosenberg Perlov, age 96, grew up in the Yiddish Theater, where her mother was an actress and her father a producer. Always artistic, she was a child star on her father's weekly Yiddish radio soap opera. In her 50's, she decided to go to college, where she acquired a BA and then, in her 60's, an MS in Speech Pathology. She has always worked hard to share her artistic vision; this book is her triumph. She lives in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, New York and will be personally promoting her book in the New York area. Cosei Kawa is an award-winning Japanese artist. His many accolades include the CCBC Choices best-of-the-year list, the Sydney Taylor Book Award Silver Medal, and the Turry's Picture Book Award.


Rifka accidentally finds herself onstage in a Yiddish theater production and speaks her first lines as an actress: 'Piff-Paff! Not to worry.'
The Yiddish theater was a vibrant part of immigrant life in New York in the first part of the 20th century. Rifka's parents are actors who introduce her to the magical world of that theater. She is especially impressed with the way in which her parents can take on the personae of the characters they play, with just a bit of makeup, some props and costumes, and changes in body language. The surrounding elements of the city are also part of the fun. They travel on the subway with its noise and diversity. They eat at the Automat, putting in their nickels and taking out the food. Perlov makes it all come alive, employing a conversational syntax that speaks directly to readers. It is a memoir told with love and nostalgia, for it is her own story, told from a distance of nine decades. Kawa's illustrations are as magical as any theater experience. She employs a variety of media to turn real places and events into fantasy landscapes from several perspectives, in dreamlike images that are somewhat reminiscent of Chagall. Look closely and there are tiny shapes and designs floating through the larger pictures.
Unusual and unabashedly charming. --starred, Kirkus Reviews

-- "Journal"

This picture book gives a glimpse into the world of the Second Avenue Yiddish theaters of 1920s New York. Young Rifka's parents are both actors, and the child loves everything about their work, from the dark backstage area, to the stored props under the stage, to the glamorous chorus girls in the dressing room, who laugh and joke and sometimes let her wear their makeup. The stylized illustrations give an air of memory and fantasy with elongated figures and confettilike shapes floating throughout the pictures. Details such as a trip to the Automat and Rifka's mother's bobbed hair add more historical context. The child's moment to shine comes when she accidentally walks onstage through a balcony door. In the family spirit of the Yiddish theater, she is welcomed by her parents and the audience alike and invited center stage for her bow in the spotlight. Perlov, herself a child actor in the days of Yiddish radio, paints an affectionate and nostalgic picture of the era with her words. A nice addition to collections wishing to highlight the American Jewish experience. --School Library Journal

-- "Journal"

What parent wasn't thrilled to hear about the Emory University study suggesting that children who are told stories about their families' pasts may develop a greater ability to cope with the vicissitudes of life? But most children's books that convey a sense of family history and tradition -- 'All-of-a-Kind Family, ' 'Little House in the Big Woods' -- are written with the older child in mind. Younger children are more likely to learn the day-to-day habits of rabbits, monkeys and bears. So it's refreshing to find three new picture books that take as their subject the stories of human families, illuminating the ways certain rituals -- along with sayings, jokes, pastimes and world views -- get passed down through the generations.

Set in the early 20th century, 'Rifka Takes a Bow' follows the daughter of two actors through the ragtag yet magical realm of a Yiddish theater on New York's Lower East Side. The 96-year-old author Betty Rosenberg Perlov grew up in that world (her mother was an actress, her father a writer and producer), and it's clear she knows it well. In telling her story, she's helped along by Cosei Kawa, whose intricately lovely drawings, with their Chagall-like colors and perspective, establish an appropriately folkloric atmosphere. As Rifka watches her parents transform into stock characters -- 'Papa pastes on a brown, curly mustache and picks up a cane. Mama puts on a white wig' -- the book recognizes the abiding mystery of parents, with their alluring yet inscrutably adult ways. 'Piff-Paff! Not to worry. I am really your papa, ' her disguised father later tells her. 'How else would I know your name is Rifkeleh?' Mirroring the way that children negotiate a love of make-believe with their deepening knowledge of artifice, Rifka likes to be reminded that on stage, blood is ketchup, whiskey is tea, and when an actor hits another actor no one gets hurt 'because a stagehand slaps his hands together behind the curtain.' When the curtain rises, Rifka sits on the sidelines until she's drawn up a flight of stairs into the center of the action. Piff-Paff. Not to worry. She handles the pressure of the spotlight just fine. Vividly capturing a bygone New York, 'Rifka Takes a Bow' also celebrates the enduring pleasures of childhood, from cherry pie to the thrill of exiting a subway station ('I am always glad to see the sky'). Written in English, it offers a charming tribute to the droll cadences, reassuring logic and irrepressible humor of Yiddish itself. --The New York Times Book Review

-- "Newspaper"

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