The Woodcarver’s Daughter

Written by Kaja Kajfez (illus.) Yona Zeldis McDonough
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

When a Russian pogrom burns her father’s woodcarving shop, twelve-year-old Batya’s family decides to move to America. Mama, Papa, Batya, older brother Avram, slightly younger sister Gittel, and four-year-old Sara board a ship for New York City. They experience seasickness, and little Sara becomes seriously ill. Although Sara recovers, she is now deaf. The family struggles in New York City to find work, make friends, and learn English in school. While skipping school, Batya finds a woodcarving shop full of men like her father, eastern European immigrants. In the shop, they carve beautiful carousel horses. Batya is a talented woodcarver, but as a female she is prohibited from the profession. Could things be different in America? This shop would be a perfect place for her father to work, but she found the shop skipping school—should she tell her father?

Early 20th-century New York City is beautifully brought to life through the eyes of a courageous, young, female, Jewish immigrant. Batya and her family are easy to love, and their various struggles engage the reader. This story teaches about many interesting topics: Russian pogroms, immigration, woodcarving, carousels, Jewish culture, deafness, gender issues, and much more. Ages 8-13.