Alte Zachen / Old Things
Shortlisted for The Carnegie Medal for Illustration Award 2023
A beautifully illustrated and presented intergenerational graphic novel that follows 11-year-old Benji and his elderly grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, as they traverse Brooklyn and Manhattan, gathering the ingredients for a Friday night dinner.
Praise for Alte Zachen
"The graphic novel format brilliantly allows us to see Bubbe in both her present and her past, allowing the reader to better understand her in all her cranky, opinionated grandeur, along with her sweet, caring grandson, Benji. A wonderful intergenerational story about the value of old things." -- Marissa Moss, Children's Book Author & Illustrator
"Taking a walk with Rosa and Benji just might change how readers see the world and everyone's place in it. Highly recommended for graphic novel collections". -- School Library Journal Starred Review *Best Children's Books of 2022 selection*
"Phillips's del-i-cate col-ors and fine details illus-trate the rich-ness of city life. Two sis-ters argu-ing on a train, a cou-ple danc-ing togeth-er, and immi-grants' first view of the Stat-ue of Lib-er-ty -- these are all images that Bubbe con-jures while look-ing back over the years. In one full-col-or scene that inte-grates past and present, she comes to terms with the inevitabil-i-ty of change. As the book ends, with grand-moth-er and grand-son against a New York City sky-line, new-ness does not seem so threat-en-ing, after all". -- Jewish Book Council
''To outsiders, Benji's Bubbe is just a crabby old lady. To the boy, and eventually to us, she becomes a vulnerable figure deserving of great tenderness. "Alte Zachen" is less ambitious and searing than Art Spiegelman's "Maus," but like that graphic novel it expands our understanding of the gulf that can exist between generations, particularly those divided by catastrophe''. -- Wall Street Journal
''Softly lined watercolor art portrays a moving narrative...even as Benjy and Bubbe's worldviews clash, the Yiddish-peppered telling renders a familial bond that is at once mercurial and unshakable.'' -- Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
''Compelling and evocative, Alte Zachen is an eloquent intergenerational story that will resonate with and enlighten readers of all ages''. -- Celebrate Picture Books
''For a first graphic novel, Alte Zachen is a true success. This is award-winning storytelling''. -- Books for Keeps
''Every so often a book appears and you just know what an impact it's going to have. Alte Zachen by #ZiggyHanaor and @benjamindraws is one of those books''. -- Children Reading for Pleasure
''A tour de force. On behalf of all the #Bubbes and #Benjis thank you @cicadabooks for such a joyful and redemptive picture book''. -- Youth Libraries Group
''Exploring themes of migration, alienation, loss, perception and identity, this is both an important book and a window into our children's futures and our parents' pasts''. -- School Reading ListBubbe's relationship with the city is complex - nothing is quite as she remembered it and she feels alienated and angry at the world around her. Benji, on the other hand, looks at the world, and his grandmother, with clear-eyed acceptance. As they wander the city, we catch glimpses of Bubbe's childhood in Germany, her young adulthood in 1950s Brooklyn, and her relationships; first with a baker called Gershon, and later with successful Joe, Benji's grandfather. Gradually we piece together snippets of Bubbe's life, gaining an insight to some of the things that have formed her cantankerous personality. The journey culminates on the Lower East Side in a moving reunion between Rosa and Gershon, her first love. As the sun sets, Benji and his Bubbe walk home over the Williamsburg Bridge to make dinner.
This is a powerful, affecting and deceptively simple story of Jewish identity, of generational divides, of the surmountability of difference and of a restless city and its inhabitants.
Earn by promoting books
Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.Become an affiliate
About the Author
Benjamin Phillips works in various mediums, straddling the disciplines of illustration and fine art. From his studio in Hastings, Benjamin finds inspiration in human interaction, the humour and turmoil of everyday life and the joy of repetition. His clients include New York Times, Penguin Random House, Ebury Press and the British Council.
"Alte Zachen wonderfully encapsulates the grandparent-grandchild relationship in true yiddishkeit. Bubbe isn't the doting, baking, spoiling grandma you might expect. She's cranky and opinionated and wonderfully interesting. Benji, her grandson, is the patient, loving one. As someone who deeply misses her own bubbe - and that whole generation - these pages allowed me a brief visit with someone very much like them once again." -- Marissa Moss, Children's Book Author and Illustrator
"Benjy and his Bubbe Rosa are at odds in Hanaor (Alex and Alex) and debut creator Phillips's expansive graphic novel. "You young people are so lazy.... You young people are always very rude," Bubbe says whenever Benjy does something she considers to be illogical, as when he brings his own bags with them to grocery shop for Shabbat dinner ("You don't need bags. They give you bags"). Bubbe's ire continues; she lashes out at a grocery clerk she deems skimpily dressed, and tells Benjy, "you don't even know what it means to be Jewish." As the pair continue their shopping, making their way from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side and back again, Bubbe revisits memories from her past, including trauma from Nazi persecution and heartbreak over a road-not-taken romance. Softly lined watercolor art portrays a moving narrative that alternates between grayscale present-day spreads and Bubbe's past in full color. Benjy is tender, patient, and conciliatory, and Bubbe takes comfort in knowing he's her anchor when her memories or their surroundings overwhelm. Even as Benjy and Bubbe's worldviews clash, the Yiddish-peppered telling renders a familial bond that is at once mercurial and unshakable". -- Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
''All right, folks. Switch your gears a bit. What we actually have here is not a picture book at all but a middle grade graphic novel for 9 to 12-year-olds. Throughout this tale, a grandma and grandchild walk through New York City looking for ingredients for Friday Night Dinner. Along the way, Bubbe is trying to communicate her Jewish heritage to her grandson but she's kind of cranky so it doesn't always go well. You see her today as she is, and then also in the past where you witness the events that formed her. Doesn't the cover have a kind of Simms Taback look to it as well? This is one book I'm definitely looking forward to!'' -- School Library Journal/Fuse 8
''In Alte Zachen (Yiddish for Old Things), founder and publisher, Ziggy Hanaor, takes the leap from penning picture books to writing graphic novels with Benjamin Phillips providing the poetic charcoal, pen and watercolour illustrations. This intergenerational story follows Benji and his grandmother, Rosa, as they journey through modern-day Brooklyn and Manhattan to collect ingredients for dinner. It becomes a multilayered, journey that juxtaposes the new with the old and sees Benji gently and lovingly guide his Bubbe as she reveals her memories of growing up and falling in love.
As we begin our own journey into the story, we encounter the Yiddish proverb: 'A person's heart is like a sausage, no one knows exactly what's inside'. It is a touching precursor to our encounter with the rather cantankerous Bubbe Rosa who may seem sharp-tongued and acerbic to her grandson and fellow Americans but whose memories show her to be brimming with love and kindness.
In a beautiful twist on form, illustrator Phillips flips the colour codes of time through pictures for Bubbe setting her modern-day landscape in sepias and greys and revealing her past time to be full of colour and life: this is a time that she prefers and pines for. Even the size of the panels, expanding into full-page bleeds, outgrow and tower over the narrowly-framed images set in the current time period.
For a first graphic novel, Alte Zachen is a true success. As Bubbe and Benji head home over the Williamsburg Bridge for their dinner, you realise that both author and illustrator have gifted us with a story rich in evocative memories in which older generations and new begin to understand one another. And Bubbe, whose personality, no matter how sharp and dated, is difficult to not love once you see what's inside her heart. This is award-winning storytelling''. -- Books for Keeps
''This is a very powerful and moving graphic novel. As grandmother and grandson walk through the city, the reader catches glimpses of Bubbe Rosa's youth. Presented in colour, these flashbacks are triggered by sights and sounds from the present, giving the reader an insight into events that have shaped her life and personality. A group of children they pass spark her memories of school and callously being sent home with the other Jewish children, a tattooed stranger brings a vision of many arms bearing tattooed numbers and a dirty train, the memory of travelling on the red velvet seats with her mother and sister. Although puzzled by her reactions, her grandson supports and guides her.
'Alte Zachen' would be perfect for sharing with children in KS3 as a starting point for many discussions, including intergenerational relationships and displacement. The story is scattered with Yiddish terms and there is a useful glossary explaining these at the end of the book''. -- Through the Bookshelf
''T S Eliot was one of millions all over the world who acknowledged Walter de la Mere as a more important and profound poet than perhaps the literary establishment were willing to allow. He wrote of his 'deceptive cadences' and 'the delicate invisible web' he wove.
I mention this because at the exact moment I opened this extraordinary graphic story, the voice of de la Mere himself emerged from the radio, reading, singing almost, The Song of the Shadows, which contains these lines:
Ghosts linger in the darkening air,
Hearken at the open door.
They sum up the atmosphere and emotions of every page of Alte Zachen.
Ziggy Hanaor and Benjamin Phillips have produced a witty, moving and illuminating story which has much to say about the big events of the last hundred years, about how different generations can absorb lessons from each other's viewpoints and about how life can still deliver a bloom, no matter how arid the soil in which it is planted may appear to be.
"Alte Zachen is a very special graphic novel with a strong and tender narrative from @cicadabooks" -- Nikki Gamble, Director of Just Imagine
''Every so often a book appears and you just know what an impact it's going to have. Alte Zachen by #ZiggyHanaor and @benjamindraws is one of those books. Beyond important. Beyond special. Just necessary. Have read it three times in less than a day and its power hasn't lessened''. -- Children Reading for Pleasure
''#AlteZachen is a tour de force. The spiky, yet warm, relationship between Benji and his Bubbe Rosa is perfectly executed and has so much to say about tolerance and acceptance. And the Brooklyn landscape comes alive.
''On behalf of all the #Bubbes and #Benjis thank you @cicadabooks for such a joyful and redemptive picture book. #AlteZachen is warm, thought-provoking and empathetic. #oldthingsneverdie''.-- Youth Libraries Group ''Exploring themes of migration, alienation, loss, perception and identity, this is both an important book and a window into our children's futures and our parents' pasts''. -- School Reading List