Julia’s Kitchen. Brenda Ferber; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.
Grade Level: 3 – 5
ISBN & Cost: Hardback ISBN: 0374399328 9780399245374; $16.00
Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets:
Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”
Synopsis: While Cara spends the night with her best friend, Marlee, her own home catches fire, killing her mother, Julia, her younger sister, Janie, and devastates her father who was unable to save them. A loving family, kind friends and the rituals of the Jewish faith are not strong enough to rebuild the bonds between father and daughter. It seems hopeless that Cara and her father will ever become a family again until he discovers her secret kitchen.
Julia’s Kitchen begins with a tragedy but ends happily. Grief and how the surviving parent and child cope with it is the main theme of Julia’s Kitchen. The rituals of Jewish life in Chicago form an underlying theme in the story. A glossary strengthens this concept. Friendship between girls with its stresses and successes comprise a third theme. Each theme could be considered a separately but Brenda Ferber weaves the storyline so artfully that Julia’s Kitchen becomes a unified and most memorable book. It is one that cannot be put down easily and should please upper elementary readers. Brenda Ferber has written a strong and charming first novel. Let us hope that there are many more.
Themes: Grief and its impact on the father-daughter relationship; Jewish life; Cookery.
Author Information: www.brendaferber.co Ferber’s website is as charming as her award winning first book, Julia’s Kitchen. She says on the opening page: “ Hi! So glad you found me here on the web. I am living proof that with hard work and determination dreams can come true. I’ve wanted to be a children’s book author ever since I was a little girl, and now my first book, Julia’s Kitchen, is out in bookstores!”
Awards: Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner, 2007
Bank Street Best Book of the Year, 2007
VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers, 2006
Junior Library Guild Selection, 2007
Nominee William Allen White Book Award, Kansas, 2008-2009
Reviews: Booklist 02/01/06
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 05/01/06
Horn Book 10/01/06
Kirkus Review starred 04/01/06
Library Media Connection 01/01/07
Multicultural Review 12/01/06
School Library Journal 04/01/06
Discussion Questions (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)
- Grief which can be defined as great sadness or deep sorrow is very difficult to overcome. After reading the first chapters allow the children to talk about the impact of the fire on Cara and her father.
- In her grief Cara questions the role of God in her life. Using some of Cara’s own questions, discuss her feelings toward God in the aftermath of the fire, how she continues to question God and how she finally resolves God in her life.
- Cara cannot seem to alleviate her grief. As a result her friendship with Marlee is strained. Is there anything else that the girls could have done earlier to avoid the temporary break in their friendship?
- Why did Cara think she needed to keep the “Julia’s Kitchen” project hidden from her dad?
- To enhance the descriptions of the Jewish rituals and the glossary in the story, additional books on Judaism would be good to help the student’s understanding of this religion and its role in the book. The following books could be considered: Butler, Laura. (2005) A Faith Like Mine: A Celebration of the World’s Religions Seen Through the Eyes of Children. New York: DK Publishing-Dorling Kindersley. Buxbaum, Shirley. (2003). Faith in America Series:Jewish Faith in America. New York: Facts on File. Clark, Anne. (2006). My Jewish Faith. New York: Cherrytree Books. Nason, Ruth. (2005) Start-up Religion - The Jewish Faith. New York: Cherrytree Books.( Standard 7, Benchmark 1; Standard 9, Benchmark 1)
- The tragic death of a parent and sister is very hard to accept. In some ways it is impossible to adjust to. Think about this line, No one loves you like your mother. Have the students record their own responses to that line. Using a graphic organizer for showing comparisons, the students find evidence of Cara’s reactions in the text and list these as well. The students’ own reactions can be compared with those of Cara as grounded by the text. Another discussion of the emotions and reactions should follow the comparison.
(Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 9, Benchmark 2)
- Comparisons of feelings and actions can be done between those of Cara as found in the text and in other literature relating to death. Suitable books are the following:
Brandis, Marianne. (1983/2003). The Tinderbox. New York: Tundra Books.
Brown, Susan Taylor. (2006) Hugging the Rock. New York: Tricycle Press.
Buscaglia, Leo. (1982) The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. New Jersey: Charles Slack.
Dodge. N. (1984) Thumpy’s Story: A Story of Love and Grief Shared by Thumpy the Bunny. Prairie Lark Press.
Miller, W. (1994) Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Another book for comparing relationships with emotionally distant fathers is:
Klages, Ellen. (2006) The Green Glass Sea. New York: Viking Press
(Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 9, Benchmark 2)
- The lives of the principal characters became hopeful and accepting of their tragedy through Cara’s initiative with “Julia’s Kitchen.” Imagine another family faced with the loss of a parent and/or a child. Design a different plan that eventually will bring wholeness to the surviving family members. This can be simply a descriptive written plan or it can also include samples products, posters, advertisements, and the like.
(Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 4)
- The cause of the house fire in Julia’s Kitchen was a short in the toaster oven. A similar fire was the inspiration for this book. Using the website for the local fire department or the state fire marshal, investigate other causes of house fires. Share this information with classmates and others through posters, brochures, the school’s website, newsletters, dramas or commercials and the like as attention-getting, colorful products.
(Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 4; Standard 9, Benchmark 1).