When Life Gives You O.J.

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When Life Gives You OJ book coverWhat the Book is About:

Ten-year-old Zelly Fried and her family live in Vermont with Zelly’s grandfather, “Ace” Greenberg. Ace is eccentric and in-your-face and he has devised a plan to get Zelly the pet of her dreams: all she has to do is pretend that an old orange juice container is a dog. If she can feed and care for her “practice dog”, her parents may reward her hard work and responsible behavior by getting her a real one. The result is an engaging, contemporary story with lots of humor and an emphasis on the development of a close relationship between a girl and her grandfather.  

Jewish Content and Values

  • Ace sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish words. He’s an old-timer who cares little for political correctness and uses words likes “shiksa” and “goyim” (much to the family’s embarrassment). All Yiddish words are explained in a kid-friendly glossary.
  • Zelly’s family is Jewish. They make a conscious decision not to send Zelly to her best friend’s church-run sleepaway camp.
  • Jewish practices are explored throughout the book; for example: going to synagogue, saying the Shema (an important Jewish prayer), and sitting shiva (a period of seven days of mourning when a family member has died).
  • Zelly repays cruelty with an act of chesed (kindness) when she loans the neighborhood bully a dime.
  • Zelly learns a life lesson when she embraces her inner chutzpah (a Yiddish word meaning personal courage or audacity) and learns to work hard for something she really wants.

Positive Role Models

  • Bubbles is Zelly’s grandmother, who dies before the story begins. Zelly deeply loved Bubbles for her creativity and sparkle.  
  • Jeremy is Zelly’s new Jewish friend. He is not fazed by Zelly’s plan to get a new dog. He fights off the local bully and is someone who Zelly can talk to honestly and openly.
  • Ace is Zelly’s grandfather. He teaches her patience and that every problem has a creative solution.

Content Advisory

This book has almost no violence. A town bully teases and throws pennies; there is a sleepover scene where non-Jewish friends tease Zelly about whether Jeremy keeps kosher or wears “a little beanie” (yarmulke or kippah worn by religious Jews); Ace’s language has some Yiddish words that could be offensive; and toward the end of the book, Ace has a heart attack and there is anxiety surrounding whether or not he will recover. 

Talk it Over

Zelly has to work hard for something that she wants. Is there something you want that you are willing to work for, and how would you be prepared to go?  

More for You

Chelm stories are funny Jewish folktales that Ace loves to tell. Nobel Prize-winning Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer helped to make Chelm stories famous. Your family might enjoy When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw, a classic collection of humorous Chelm tales.

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