Until the Blueberries Grow, a review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Until the Blueberries Grow by Jennifer Wolf Kam, illustrated by Sally Walker

A Story About Change.

Ben lives next door to his great-grandpa, Zayde (the Yiddish term for grandfather). When Zayde declares his intention to downsize, Ben begs him to stay “until the blueberries grow.” Then “until the grapes are ripe,” “until the snow falls,” and finally “until the flowers bloom.” After an extra year at home, Zayde finally moves to assisted living, where Ben brings him blueberries and memories.

The passage of time, and the bonding between Ben and Zayde, are marked by northern seasonal changes in nature and the celebration of Jewish holidays: leaves at Sukkot, snow at Chanukah, and flowers at Passover. We see Zayde break out a cane and Ben lose a tooth, and Ben’s sibling grow from baby to toddler. And of course, we see Zayde’s long-delayed move. But along with the inevitability of change, we see the reassuringly constant love between the generations. Sensitive touches show them taking care of each other. Ben pours Zayde a glass of water, and Zayde holds Ben while he naps. When Zayde finally decides to move, he helps Ben accept the transition by showing him how much he treasures their time together.

Why We Love This Story.

This sweet story is both universal and specific. Love of family, love of nature, love of time spent together, are elements that will be relatable to readers of all backgrounds. The Jewish details  help mark the passage of time, but are applied with a light touch, adding more flavor than education. In fact, the holidays are not even named; they are recognizable through the presence of ritual objects and foods. 

The illustrations by Sally Walker are peaceful and light-filled. Looking at the depictions of Zayde’s property, I have yard envy. I want a giant backyard with a magnolia tree and a porch swing and room to grow blueberries and grapes! I’m also impressed by her use of perspective. I especially appreciate the spread that shows Zayde, really feeling his age, looking up at the viewer from the distant foot of a long, dark staircase. “The staircase is very tall,” he says, eloquently signaling his need for change.

This book was published by the PJ Library program, which provides free Jewish children’s books to families by mail. PJ adds bonus material on their books’ French flaps, and Until the Blueberries Grow uses those flaps to offer thoughts about the passage of time and the relationship between generations. Those discussion starters may be found on their website at pjlibrary.org/untilblueberriesgrow.

A quiet and lovely story about aging and family bonds.

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Heidi Rabinowitz hosts The Book of Life Podcast, a show about Jewish kidlit (mostly) at www.bookoflifepodcast.com. She moderates the Facebook group Jewish Kidlit Mavens for people who have a professional interest in Jewish children's literature, and is a co-admin of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, a mock award blog. She's the Library Director at Congregation B'nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, and does 25+ preschool storytimes every week.

1 thought on “Until the Blueberries Grow, a review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day”

  1. Thank you for sharing your view of this lovely picture book in celebration of Read Your World Day 2024, and for your support of our organization since the very beginning!

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