Book Review: Sylvia Weil, My Guardian Angel


My Guardian Angel by Sylvia Weil
Translated by Gillian Rosner
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic 2004

My Guardian Angel is both an interesting and valuable look at the experiences of a twelve year old Jewish girl named Elvina, and her family, who live in Troyes, France during the Middle Ages. The story begins in the year 1096, the year of the first Crusade. Elvina-an historical character-is the granddaughter of the great Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac. She is bright, curious, imaginative, and has a thirst for knowledge. She is unusual because she can read and write Hebrew. Few Jewish women were educated at this time, but Solomon ben Isaac makes sure that his daughters and granddaughter are given the opportunity to learn.

The story is essentially a slice of Jewish family life as seen through Elvina’s eyes.

Woven throughout the story are the religious ceremonies, customs, superstitious beliefs, and everyday chores of medieval village life. Elvina is skilled at weaving, assisting her mother with Sabbath preparations, and preparing healing potions, as well as reading and writing. She so inspires her young cousins, Naomi and Rachel, that they beg her to teach them to read and write.

Elvina is on the brink of womanhood, and must make several important decisions on her own throughout the story. She talks to, and sometimes writes to, her Mazal, guardian angel, as she ponders what to do. The guardian angel never materializes, nor do we get the sense that he/she whispers words of guidance to Elvina. We do, however, see the interior struggles of a young girl. Ultimately, the decisions Elvina makes are compassionate, if not a bit foolishly brave. The Jewish community is terrified of Peter the Hermit and his Crusaders. One Sabbath, while she is alone, Elvina must decide whether or not to open her door to three Crusaders, one of whom is wounded. She does so with surprising results. She helps yet another young Crusader about her own age. He is a boy named Gauthier. He begs her to help him hide until the Crusaders have gone. He would much rather study with the monks than march to Jerusalem. Elvina agrees to help him, although she feels guilty about it. No one must find out that she is aiding the enemy. Her actions bring unforeseen, but happy results.

The book has an afterward which explains the historical background for the events that transpire. It might work better as a preface, especially if children who read the story have little knowledge of the Middle Ages or the Crusades. Also included is a glossary of Jewish words, which provides excellent explanations of terms.

Elvina’s story is not overwhelmed by too much detail of the medieval period. The author skillfully weaves the information into the events. Elvina and her family remain at the core of the story. Her experiences and emotions are kept at the forefront. The only reservation that I have with the story is that boys may not be interested in a story told from Elvina’s perspective, even though strong males are present and are great influences on her. She is equally as strong.

Elizabeth Crowll

(A former middle-school teacher, Elizabeth Crowll is a graduate student at Youngstown State University.)

Original Citation:  Scientia Scholae, Volume III, Issue 1, Spring 2005

NOTE: Links have been corrected and/or deleted.  The original “look and feel”  of the journal has been preserved as much as possible, but the original logos have also been removed.  No editing to the actual texts has been done since their original publication.

TEAMS: Teaching Association for Medieval Studies