Friday, December 15, 2017

The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson - ADVISABLE

Michelson, Richard   The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew  Illustrated by Karla Gudeon. Unpaged. Charlesbridge, 2017. $16.99. NONFICTION PICTURE BOOK

When Ben-Zion was a young child, living in Jerusalem in the 1880s, his father, Eliezer, didn't want him to hear any language other than Hebrew, even though Hebrew was only spoken at that time in the temples. Some even considered it blasphemy to use it in day-to-day life, and ridiculed Eliezer's wishes to start a school conducted entirely in Hebrew. He was not deterred. He realized that he needed to teach the children first and let them teach their parents. By comparing lots of similar words in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and other languages, and with the help of Ben-Zion and other children, Eliezer began creating new Hebrew words for items and ideas that didn't exist during the biblical era, such as  ice cream, dictionary, and bicycle. Children competed to make up new words, and they taught their parents. Over time, teachers started teaching Hebrew at school.

The author shares an interesting little-known story about how Hebrew came back from the dead, largely through the efforts of one man, by focusing on his young child's unique linguistic experience. Though it contains made-up dialogue, the story follows the general facts as shared through the writings of Eliezer and his son Ben-Zion, as explained in a three-page section at the end. This section also adds additional details about the history of Hebrew and Palestine, and the lives of Ben-Zion, Eliezer, and his wife Deborah. Speakers of Hebrew in daily life has grown from zero, when Eliezer moved to Jerusalen in 1881, to more than three million today. Share this story with curious second through fifth graders as an excellent example of how one man's vision can change the world.

EL (4-6) - ADVISABLE. Reviewed by P. K. Foster, MLS, teacher-librarian

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