Alte Zachen: Old Things

Alte Zachen: Old Things

By Author / Illustrator

Ziggy Hanaor, Benjamin Phillips


Comics & Graphic Novels

Age range(s)



Cicada Books








This first graphic novel from Cicada follows 11-year-old Benji and his elderly grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, as they traverse Brooklyn and Manhattan, gathering the ingredients for a Friday night dinner. Bubbe's relationship with the city is complex - nothing is quite as she remembered it and she feels alienated and angry at the world around her. Benji, on the other hand, looks at the world, and his grandmother, with clear-eyed acceptance.

As they wander the city, we catch glimpses of Bubbe's childhood in Germany, her young adulthood in 1950s Brooklyn, and her relationships; first with a baker called Gershon, and later with successful Joe, Benji's grandfather. Gradually we piece together snippets of Bubbe's life, gaining an insight to some of the things that have formed her cantankerous personality.  The journey culminates on the Lower East Side in a moving reunion between Rosa and Gershon, her first love. As the sun sets, Benji and his Bubbe walk home over the Williamsburg Bridge to make dinner.

This is a powerful, affecting and deceptively simple story of Jewish identity, of generational divides, of the surmountability of difference and of a restless city and its inhabitants.



Benji and his grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, go shopping together for the ingredients for their Friday night dinner. As they wander through Brooklyn and Manhattan, Bubbe is often confused as the world around her does not match with her memories, leaving her feeling alienated and angry.

This is a very powerful and moving graphic novel. As grandmother and grandson walk through the city, the reader catches glimpses of Bubbe Rosa's youth. Presented in colour, these flashbacks are triggered by sights and sounds from the present, giving the reader an insight into events that have shaped her life and personality. A group of children they pass spark her memories of school and callously being sent home with the other Jewish children, a tattooed stranger brings a vision of many arms bearing tattooed numbers and a dirty train, the memory of travelling on the red velvet seats with her mother and sister.

Although puzzled by her reactions, her grandson supports and guides her. Bubbe Rosa's memories also drift to her relationships - with Gershon, who was a baker, and then Joe, Benji's grandfather. Her memories of Gershon seem to be tinged with regret and at the end of the story, Rosa finds her way to his bakery where the two are reunited once more. Benji and his Bubbe then head for home to share their Friday night meal, walking in companionable silence.

Alte Zachen would be perfect for sharing with older children (ages 11+) as a starting point for many discussions, including intergenerational relationships and displacement. The story is scattered with Yiddish terms and there is a useful glossary explaining these at the end of the book.

72 Pages / Reviewed by Sue, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 11+


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