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CALLING COBBER is a middle grade novel for Jewish boys, first released by PJ Our Way in May 2020, and released by Green Bean Books (London) in December 2020.

Calling Cobber Book Jacket

Available for purchase from Amazon

When eleven-year-old Jacob “Cobber” Stern’s best friend, Philip “Boolkie” Berman, breaks their agreement not to “get bar mitzvah’d” and becomes busy with frequent Hebrew lessons, Cobber begins spending more time with his almost one-hundred-year-old great-grandfather, Papa-Ben, a Russian immigrant.  Still missing his mother six years after her death and wondering where he fits in, Cobber hopes that Papa-Ben can fill the void in his life.  Cobber resists embracing his Judaism for a variety of reasons, including anger at God over his mother’s death.  The “ticking clock” of Boolkie’s brother’s bar mitzvah compels Cobber to deal with his own reservations about faith and forgiveness.

In spending time with Papa-Ben, Cobber notices that the old man’s memory is failing and makes painful choices about which promises should be kept.  His overly-developed sense of responsibility for Papa-Ben’s welfare is tested when his great- grandfather collapses and Cobber blames himself.  While his father favors discharging Papa-Ben to a nursing home, Cobber wants to find a way for him to live with the Sterns.  Realizing how much Papa-Ben misses rituals like Sabbath dinner, Cobber—with Boolkie’s help—tries to reprise the event—with comic, emotional, and sad results.

Meanwhile, events at school—a talent show and a haiku poem, praised by Cobber’s teacher and panned by Papa-Ben—heighten tensions. When Cobber discovers that Papa-Ben never learned to read English, he and Papa-Ben nervously try to teach each other English and Hebrew, respectively.  Frustration results on both sides, however, convincing Cobber he made the right decision not to join Boolkie in studying for a bar mitzvah.

Dad and Cobber struggle toward greater understanding of one another.  All that is tested, however, when Papa-Ben takes ill after Cobber’s Sabbath dinner.  Fear of losing Papa-Ben forces Cobber to reach out to both God and his father.  When Papa-Ben recovers sufficiently to participate in Eli Berman’s bar mitzvah but falters en route to the bimah, Cobber’s love for the old man overcomes his fears about standing before a crowd, reciting Hebrew.  When Dad joins them and he is supported between the two people he loves most, Cobber feels a new connection to their shared history—and a sense of peacefulness that he is not alone.


Jewish Book Council:

By Emi­ly Schneider - January 18, 2021

Sheri Sinykin’s newest nov­el art­ful­ly com­bines sev­er­al issues of great inter­est to mid­dle-grade read­ers. Eleven-year old Jacob ​“Cob­ber” Stern lost his moth­er six years ago and his mem­o­ry of her is grad­u­al­ly fad­ing, a loss near­ly as painful as her death. Cobber’s father’s own grief has made him emo­tion­al­ly unavail­able, and even Cobber’s best friend — new­ly enrolled in Hebrew school — has become less acces­si­ble to him, becom­ing a source of sad­ness to him. The most sta­ble anchor in the boy’s life is his nine­ty-nine-year-old great-grand­fa­ther, but recent­ly his mem­o­ry laps­es and acci­dents have forced Cob­ber to con­front the pos­si­ble loss of one more per­son in his life. Child­hood depres­sion, com­ing to terms with death, and issues of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty all find expres­sion in this believ­able and sen­si­tive sto­ry of one boy’s life, as he learns to seek and accept sup­port for the life events which over­whelm him.

The unusu­al place­ment of a great-grand­fa­ther, rather than grand­fa­ther, at the novel’s cen­ter, height­ens the urgency of Cobber’s fears as well as the chang­ing nature of Jew­ish Amer­i­can life. Set in the year 2000 in a small Wis­con­sin town with few Jew­ish fam­i­lies, Cobber’s sto­ry reflects the loss­es of con­nec­tion with their past reflect­ed in the Stern family’s ten­u­ous self-def­i­n­i­tion as Jews. Papa-Ben, almost one hun­dred years old, still remem­bers life in Rus­sia and his dif­fi­cult process of assim­i­lat­ing after immi­grat­ing to the Unit­ed States. His wife and chil­dren have died, mak­ing him ​“an old tree with no roots,” and his grand­son Lar­ry, Cobber’s father, has aban­doned the Jew­ish prac­tices with which was raised. Although Cob­ber attends Sun­day school week­ly to hon­or his late mother’s wish­es, he balks at the idea of prepar­ing to become a bar mitz­vah when his best friend begins after­noon Hebrew class­es in prepa­ra­tion for that mile­stone. When his Eng­lish teacher asks Cob­ber and his class­mates to write haiku poems about their iden­ti­ty, he is forced to admit that he feels no con­nec­tion to any­thing larg­er than himself.

Rather than roman­ti­ciz­ing an osten­si­bly rich­er Jew­ish past, the nov­el rais­es sub­tle ques­tions about what it means to be Jew­ish when that iden­ti­ty is freely cho­sen. Chal­leng­ing his father, Cob­ber asks if an oblig­a­tory bar mitz­vah is tru­ly impor­tant: ​“I can still be Jew­ish, right? Isn’t it like being white? A label? Some­thing you just are?” His father’s ten­ta­tive response that being Jew­ish can be much more than a mean­ing­less cat­e­go­ry is uncon­vinc­ing, giv­en his own iso­la­tion from his com­mu­ni­ty. There is no facile con­clu­sion about what it means to be a Jew. Papa-Ben’s roots in the Jew­ish past have lost a viable con­text in the present, and their rel­e­vance to Cobber’s search for mean­ing is unclear. Sinykin presents Cobber’s strug­gle for his own solu­tion, includ­ing a sin­cere form of per­son­al spir­i­tu­al­i­ty with­in Jew­ish tra­di­tion, with sub­tle­ty and balance.

One of the great­est achieve­ments of this book is the way in which Sinykin embeds the most pro­found ques­tions about love, loss, what it means to be human and to be Jew­ish, with­in the inti­mate scale of one fam­i­ly cop­ing under extreme pres­sures. There are moments of humor, when Cob­ber and his friend joke and tease one anoth­er, as well as scenes of heart-break­ing sad­ness, as Cob­ber and his father attempt to cope with past loss­es and inevitable future ones. Papa-Ben and Cob­ber stand at oppo­site ends of the life cycle, alone in their mourn­ing, but also embrac­ing one anoth­er and find­ing strength in a com­mon tie to Judaism.

Call­ing Cob­ber is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed and includes an ​“Author’s Note” and a use­ful glos­sary of Hebrew, Yid­dish, and oth­er terms.

PJ Our Way Reviews:

One of the Best Books I've Ever Read:

 Calling Cobber was a realistic fiction story that drew me immediately. The characters seemed like real people. I imagined them in my head. I liked reading about a boy who was older than me and his life. The plot was easy to follow. Cobber's Dad didn't notice Cobber much because he was always at work. It seemed like Cobber and Papa Ben formed a friendship. It was sad when Cobber's best friend, Boolkie, started Sunday School. Cobber didn't get to see Boolkie much after. The most exciting part was when Papa Ben moved in with Cobber and his Dad, and they had a Hanukkah feast. It was a really happy scene, because they were all together. Cobber's Dad then started to pay more attention to him. I was really glad to read that Cobber's Dad changed for the better by the end of the book. I would love to read a sequel of this book to find out what happens as Cobber gets older. One added point: I liked the cover of the book.


Instagram Review:

From Peachtree Publishers:

ZAYDE COMES TO LIVE  is my first picture book.  When Rachel's Jewish grandfather comes to live with her family because he is dying and her friends tell her he won't go to Heaven or Paradise, she wants to find out where Zayde "will go."

  Illustrated by Kristina Swarner


ZAYDE COMES TO LIVE has been blessed with ...

 These HONORS:

The Sydney Taylor Honor Book Award for Younger Readers  / Association of Jewish Libraries / 2013

The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are awarded every year by the Association of Jewish Libraries to books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. The Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) has been recognizing quality Jewish literature for many years.  In 1968, AJL established a children’s book award called the Shirley Kravitz Children’s Book Award.  This award was renamed “the Sydney Taylor Book Award” in 1978 after the death of Sydney Taylor, author of the All-of-a-Kind Family series.  More information about the award, including how to order silver seals for your own copies if you wish, can be found here.  


Parents' Choice Recommended Award / Parents' Choice Foundation / 2012  

The Parents' Choice Recommended Seal indicates that the committees of the Parents' Choice Foundation (established in 1978 as a 501c3 and the nation’s oldest nonprofit guide to quality children’s media and toys) found the product distinguished enough to give it a notch above our "Approval" rating. In other words, this commendation implies the Foundation's approval and, even beyond that, its thorough recommendation for reasons of production, appeal and fulfillment of its clear intent.


The Wisconsin Library Association awarded ZAYDE COMES TO LIVE its Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award for most distinguished children's book by a Wisconsin book creator in 2012.


Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People /NCSS/CBC/ 2013 

Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (honor book) / The Poetry Center at Passaic County (NJ) Community College / 2013

ZAYDE COMES TO LIVE was named to Tablet Magazine's List of Best Children's Books of 2012.



“Tender, moving, as perfect a circle as life. A book for when you and your child need it and when you do not.”

Jane Yolen, author of Owl Moon

“A sweet and uplifting tale of wisdom passing from generation to generation.”

Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles, CA. Named #1 Rabbi in America by The Daily Beast.

“Masterfully gentle, loving and sensitive...a tremendously helpful resource...”

Jan M. Brahms, D.D., Rabbi, Congregation Beth Shalom of the Woodlands, The Woodlands, TX





Booklist: Starred Review (Issue date: November 15, 2012)

There are many books that help a young child cope with death, but this is a particularly moving one—and it’s surprisingly direct about how different religions view the subject. The narrator’s grandfather, Zayde, has come to live with Rachel’s family because he’s dying. Rachel and he still try to play together, but he is tired. Rachel worries what will happen to him when he dies. Her friend Megan says Zayde will go to Heaven—if he believes in Jesus. Hakim says there are milk-and-honey rivers flowing in Paradise, but he must believe in Allah. “But we do not. That’s because we are Jewish.” So Rachel asks the rabbi what will happen: “He’ll take one last breath . . . Then his energy will live on with your ancestors in the World to Come.” Rather than a nebulous visual, illustrator Swarner depicts this as family dancing in a circle of love, against a blanket of stars. And Zayde, too, tells her he is at peace and that he’ll live in her love and memories. And, as she snuggles next to her grandfather, Rachel realizes that as long as there is life, another memory can still be made. The artwork, linoleum prints touched with watercolor and colored pencil, focus on the family, but juxtaposed are falling leaves, and star-swept skies that add depth. Although this reverberates with the beliefs of a particular religion, the emotions and message transcend. — Ilene Cooper


   Publisher’s Weekly: Starred Review    (Issue date: 10/15/12)

Rachel learns that the impending death of her grandfather—her zayde—doesn’t have to be tragic in this beautiful and accessible tale that gives expression to many children’s fears about dying. Now that her elderly grandfather has moved in with her family, Rachel sees firsthand his waning energy and confused moments, and is worried about where he will go when he dies. When her Christian and Muslim friends provide answers that don’t suit Rachel because she is Jewish, the rabbi explains that “his energy will live on with your ancestors in the World to Come.” Her zayde, too, helps her understand that there can be peace and completeness in death. Sinykin hits just the right balance of communication and reassurance with her storytelling, as does Swarner with her endearing and soothing illustrations. Children will relate to Rachel’s concerns and appreciate the comforting and positive messages relayed in a story that takes on a difficult and important subject. Ages 6–10. (Oct.)  


School Library Journal (Issue date: October, 2012)

    PreS-Gr 1–Rachel’s grandpa has come to live out his final days with her family, and the girl worries about what will happen to him next. Predictions from her non-Jewish friends don’t quite fit, but she is satisfied when her rabbi says that Zayde will join his ancestors and points out that the man is living until the moment he dies. Rachel focuses on making a few final memories and treasuring Zayde’s remaining time. 

    There are many stories for young children about grandparents passing away, but this one is unique in that it centers on the time leading up to death instead of its aftermath. The beautifully sensitive storytelling comforts readers by showing the inevitability of the circle of life in the context of strong family love. Although the book is aimed at Jewish audiences, the emotions ring true universally.  

    Swarner’s gentle, softly colored linoleum prints suit the story perfectly, both in the household scenes and the spiritual ones. The artist has illustrated Howard Schwartz’s Before You Were Born (Roaring Brook, 2005), an excellent companion piece to this story. Pitch-perfect text and illustrations combine to create a story that will touch readers’ hearts.-Heidi Estrin, Congregation B’nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL  

Kirkus Reviews  (Issue Date: September 1, 2012;  Online Publish Date: August 8, 2012)

    Though many parents tend to shield their young children from the realities of terminal illness, this picture book looks at death through the concerned and loving eyes of a child who begins to understand the concept behind the "circle of life."

    When Zayde comes to live in Rachel’s house, it is “because he is dying.” Watching him sit and sleep day and night in a sleeper-chair with an oxygen tube, Rachel instinctively knows that he is close to death and begins to question where he will go after his last breath. Megan says he will go to heaven, and Hakim says he will go to Paradise , but Zayde's Jewish; is there a place for him? Through this question-and-answer text, listeners are told of the inevitability gently, with Zayde’s acceptance and feelings of “shalom,” peace and completeness, and the rabbi’s explanation of “Olam Ha-Ba,” the Jewish belief in the “World to Come.” Most importantly Rachel learns that memories carried in family stories will keep her grandfather alive in her heart. Sinykin does a commendable job of dispelling fear with empathy and tenderness through some very direct yet positive answers to a child’s uncertainty. Linoleum prints created with watercolors and colored pencils in muted tones reflect a spiritually calm and sometimes whimsical ambiance, matching the text’s gentle tone.

    Though Rachel's quest takes place within a Jewish context, her emotions and situation are near universal, and this artful book handles both well. (Picture book. 5-10)


AJL Reviews (American Jewish Libraries) (Issue Date: November-December, 2012);  Online Publish Date: August 8, 2012 (page 11)

Sinykin, Sheri. Zayde Comes to Live. Illus. by Kristina Swarner. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2012. 30 pp. $16.95.

(9781561456314). Reviewed from an advance reading copy. Ages 5–9.

This lovely story exemplifies the concept of “bibliotherapy,” as it attempts to help young Rachel deal with her grandfather’s impending death. Rachel’s Zayde has come to live with her family, for he has grown infirm and weak. She realizes that he is dying and wonders where he will go when he dies. She asks everyone she knows—her friends, her rabbi, her Zayde—but no one has the perfect answer. Her friends introduce her to Christian and Moslem concepts of death, which Rachel knows are not right for her and her Jewish family. Megan assures her that Zayde will go to Heaven but first he must believe in Jesus. Another friend, Hakim, says that Zayde will go to paradise, but first he must believe in Allah. Eventually, Rachel finds a way to make peace with the reality of her Zayde’s death, as well as comfort and acceptance with the concept of Olam HaBa, the world to come. The lush illustrations have a dreamlike quality that perfectly embellish this story. While the publisher’s blurb describes the book as touching, it is rather searing and painful and may be too intense for a child to read independently. Recommended as a read-aloud and helping book, with adult guidance.

Shelly Feit, Moriah School Library, Englewood, NJ






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ISBN 13: 978-1-56145-631-4

ISBN 10: 1-56145-631-4


Available from Peachtree Publisher's website or from


Jacket photograph "Search for Self" copyright 1991 by Karekin Goekjian

Giving Up the Ghost, a suspense novel for readers ages 10-14,  is also of special interest to grief counselors, teachers, librarians, and parents concerned for how middle schoolers handle their fears about terminal illness and the eventual death of loved ones.


Thirteen-year-old Davia is afraid of many things: death, unfamiliar places, and the chance of her mom’s cancer returning.  This summer, two years after Hurricane Katrina, her fears loom even larger, as she and her parents assist with the in-home hospice care of her elderly great-aunt Mari.

 Everything about the sharp-tongued old woman and her romantic but spooky Louisiana plantation, Belle Forêt, frightens Davia.  And when she encounters Emilie, the tortured ghost of a spoiled young Creole girl from the nineteenth century, she is even more terrified.  To Davia’s surprise, Emilie seems eager to have Davia for a confidante, but the ghost is unpredictable and difficult. Gradually, Davia learns secrets about Emilie and her own family’s past from Aunt Mari—stories of premature endings and regrets. As the old woman’s health deteriorates, she and Davia are drawn closer. Together, they hope to release Emilie’s spirit from Belle Forêt.  

 Author Sheri Sinykin has written a sensitive, provocative tale of an adolescent who learns to accept uncertainty and comes to terms with her fears. Readers will be mesmerized by the gripping supernatural mystery that lies at the heart of the story.

Read CHAPTER 1 online now.

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