Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons is a beautifully illustrated picture book with a unique topic that will bring diversity to any classroom’s library. Written by Alice B. McGinty, the book tells the story of a welcoming Jewish Rabbi who loves for his congregation to be happy.
At the beginning of the story, the congregation gives Rabbi Benjamin a beautiful holiday vest that has four silver buttons. He is so excited to wear his new vest to all of the special holiday celebrations. The Rabbi eats the food that has been specially prepared, and he is excited to see the smiles on peoples’ faces as they watch him enjoy the food they have made. As the year goes on and more Jewish holidays come and go, Benjamin’s stomach begins to grow because of all the delicious food, and his vest gets tighter and tighter. One night, while he is celebrating Sukkot, one of the silver buttons pops off his vest! He is so worried that his congregation will notice, so when he goes home he fixes the vest with a pin. He continues to wear his vest to more holiday celebrations. Finally, the vest has had enough and all four of the buttons pop off and fly into the bowls of food on the table.
The Rabbi is sad, but he has an idea! That summer, he helps a family plant a garden, picks apples, goes on a hike, and his stomach shrinks! He hopes that the vest will fit again, but when he puts it on it is saggy and ruined. The Rabbi worries about what his congregation will think when he shows up without his holiday vest! Thankfully, his doorbell rings and he finds his congregation on his porch. They hand him a box with a new holiday vest, featuring the same four shiny silver buttons.
I was excited to find this book, because it provides the opportunity to teach young students about the traditions of a religion that they may have never heard about. It can also serve as a mirror for Jewish students who might have struggled to find books that represent children like themselves. The end of this book contains short definitions of the Jewish holidays and foods featured in the story, as well as recipes of the food that the Rabbi eats. This provides a unique learning opportunity for students who have not experienced Jewish culture. In addition, the themes of service, joy, and helping others are featured prominently in this book, making it relatable and pertinent for all students to enjoy. Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s illustrations in this book are colorful, fun, and beautifully done. The families she drew in the congregation are diverse, with varying skin colors, hair styles, and ages. The story even says that the Rabbi “welcomed everyone who entered,” and on the first page he stands on the porch with his arms wide open and a smile on his face, portraying a message of acceptance. This message is especially important for students to understand in the classroom to foster a safe and welcoming learning environment for all. It is critical to expose students to diversity through literature that offers positive representations of various cultures.