Funny body lan­guage

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

a re­source, a rich seam of thoughts, mem­o­ries, as­so­ci­a­tions, phys­i­cal and emo­tional per­cep­tions, that en­hance her writ­ing life.

She wants to rid her­self of the sweats, the twitches, the rest­less­ness, the toss­ing and turn­ing and in­va­sive tur­moil of her nights — but she couldn’t live with­out them.

Like Scheheraza­de, whose nights are filled with sto­ries that keep her alive, so Ben­jamin recog­nises — in spite of the sleep clin­ics and drugs and herbal reme­dies and Cog­ni­tive Be­hav­iour Ther­apy and mind-trick­ery she tries out — that her life would be­come emp­tier, more des­o­late, with­out the stim­u­la­tion that in­som­nia be­stows.

There are glimpses be­neath the daz­zling sur­face of the text of deeper dis­tur­bances at work in her night rest­less­ness: a “tem­per­a­men­tally in­som­niac”, anx­ious mother; her child­hood re­bel­lious­ness against the six o’clock “bed­room cur­few”, know­ing “that sleep was a cursed thing sent to bring the cur­tain down on the ma­te­rial plea­sures of my world — on play, ad­ven­tur­ing, com­pany…” (no won­der her favourite tale was of the princess kept awake by the pea); and, in later life, the un­con­scious teeth-grind­ing that “has worn down my front three bot­tom teeth to chalky stumps”.

Yet, what­ever the roots of her in­som­nia, in this book, Ma­rina Ben­jamin em­braces her con­di­tion and ef­fects an al­chem­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of it into some­thing rich and strange. Like the cover of her book, that one tilts to re­veal myr­iad lu­mi­nous sil­ver dots which dis­ap­pear from an­other an­gle — a bril­liant visual metaphor — Ben­jamin’s will­ing­ness to look at her world “at a tilt” al­lows her a vi­sion of pro­fu­sion and cre­ative po­ten­tial­ity to il­lu­mi­nate, and set against, the ter­rors of the night.

Howard Cooper is a rabbi and psy­chother­a­pist

RYAN, THE naugh­ti­est boy in Bracket Wood School, ac­ci­den­tally switches bod­ies with evil new head­mas­ter Mr Carter, just be­fore Off­head (Of­fice for Fine High Ed­u­ca­tion and Daft­ness-proof­ing) is due to in­spect. Cue lots of new school rules (only run­ning, shout­ing and bump­ing al­lowed in the cor­ri­dors…) and un­usual school din­ners (fi­nally that ice-cream scoop gets used for some­thing sweeter than mashed potato). Ev­ery­body loves a life-swap story and Head Kid by David Bad­diel (HarperColl­ins, £12.99) is spot-on for eight to 12-year-olds, with lava­to­rial hu­mour, cake-mix-over-head in­ci­dents and a great run­ning gag about the Gruf­falo.

Pick­led Wa­ter­melon by Esty Schachter (Kar-Ben, £6.99) is a slim and sur­pris­ing novel. Molly’s par­ents take her to Is­rael for the first time (it is 1986, which seems ran­dom). They stay with Saba and Savta, meet cousins, try the food, see the sights. So far, so ele­men­tary guide-book. But it is not only Is­rael that the fam­ily ex­plores, as Molly and her rel­a­tives — whose views on Zion­ism vary— be­gin, in a gen­tle, ac­ces­si­ble way, to ex­am­ine what it means to be a di­as­pora Jew, al­beit from an Amer­i­can per­spec­tive. Bold move, in a book for nine to 12 year olds.

Also ex­plor­ing Is­rael is a cu­ri­ous young crane called Alexan­dra and her fam­ily, who stop off, as so many real-life birds do, on their mi­gra­tion to Africa.

by (Kar-Ben, £5.99) is il­lus­trated by Chiara Pasqualot, who cap­tures the grace of the birds. A low-key pic­ture book for ages three to seven.

Shona is a new girl in a big, con­fus­ing school. by Michael Rosen (Scholas­tic, £6.99) takes her story and in­ter­cuts it with Dick­ens’s Oliver Twist, which Shona is study­ing in English lessons. As Oliver be­comes drawn into a life of crime, so does Shona, cre­at­ing a new way for the con­tem­po­rary reader to un­der­stand the clas­sic text. Along the way, we get a brief, in­con­clu­sive class dis­cus­sion about whether or not Fa­gin is por­trayed in a racist way and whether we should no longer read Dick­ens’s novel. Stim­u­lat­ing stuff for age 11 up, with an ap­peal­ing English-teacher char­ac­ter.

All Eyes on Alexan­dra Anna Levine Un­ex­pected Twist,

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