First Rain by Charlotte Herman and illustrated by Kathryn Mitter is a wonderful tale of personal growth through family love. When Abby and her parents move to Israel they are sad to have to leave Abby’s Grandma behind. As Abby finds out that Israel is an exciting new place, she tells her Grandma all about her new experiences through letters and telephone calls. Abby’s relationship with her Grandma is poignant without being emotionally heavy. Their love carries the reader through the text and Mitter’s bright illustrations.
As Abby learns to love Israel, she makes new friends who teach her Hebrew words like Savta, the Hebrew word for Grandma. Abby becomes enthusiastic about Israel as a new place, and she has many adventures like visiting Jerusalem, swimming in the Dead Sea, and going on a tiyul—or hike.
Mitter’s illustrations show Israel as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic hub, not just in largely populated areas like the Jerusalem marketplace, but in Abby’s classroom as well.
Herman’s writing feels genuine; the reader gets to see Abby explore her new home as she relates it back to her Grandma. In this way, the story hinges directly on their relationship, Abby’s adjustment to learning about a new culture and language, and the conflict of Abby waiting excitedly for the first rain to take away the dry heat of summer. First Rain feels timeless.
Any child with a strong love for their grandparents or who is transitioning to a new environment and has had to leave someone they love behind will identify strongly with Abby.
Reviewer: Erin Koehler
Recommendation: Highly Recommended Ages 3+