August House is delighted to announce the release of The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat, a 32-page LittleFolk picture book by noted children’s author, Barbara Bietz. The story is told from the perspective of a young boy whose family moves across the country to a small desert town in the Southwest, where they are the only Jewish family in the area. This unique, eye-opening adventure portrays the value of perseverance, hospitality, and kindness in building a sense of community. Above all, the story champions the pioneering ideal of establishing friendships in foreign places and staying true to your beliefs.
The family prepares for their departure by packing all of their precious belongings, including Papa’s kiddish cup and Mama’s big soup pot. When they arrive they’re greeted by the local sheriff at the train station and soon make friends with the shopkeepers, the town blacksmith, and their new horse Clara. Although they cherish their new friends, on each Shabbat, Mama laments all of the leftover soup. Being accustomed to providing for a full house of relatives, she doesn’t know a recipe that will serve only three people. Her son, affectionately called “Little Buckaroo” by the townspeople, sets out to renew her joy by sharing their tradition of hospitality with their new friends and neighbors.
Barbara said she loves using the format of a picture book to tell the story of The Sundown Kid since everyone can enjoy a picture book, no matter how young or old they are. “Sometimes I think we forget that,” she said in a recent interview. In creating this timeless, historical tale, her goal was to showcase the incredible strength and genuine heart of the pioneer families who relocated to distant lands in order to make better lives for their families. In a way, her book is a testament to the enduring qualities of those communities that are still alive today.
One important aspect of The Sundown Kid is the book’s attention to detail. Both Barbara and award-winning illustrator John Kanzler wanted the illustrations to accurately portray the history, culture and religious traditions of pioneer families in the West. In a show of appreciation for John’s sensitivity to correctness, Barbara pointed out that, “As we compared notes, we both had a lot of fun looking at old photographs and things like that.” In the end, the finished book is sure to be a future award-winner, with the combination of richly illustrated Western scenes and charming prose.
Barbara hopes that families and teachers will share the story of The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat with young children and use it to discuss the important role that religious traditions play in strengthening communities. She and John collaborated on the project hoping that it will be enjoyed by a broad audience, especially with the “ageless” ability of picture books to reach across generations to connect people of all ages. Ultimately, The Sundown Kid is a reflection of the unique contribution that families make in building bridges and creating stronger communities.