Stories for Children to Celebrate and Commemorate
An exciting array of new Jewish titles geared to children ages 2 and up is available this holiday season. Gaily illustrated picture books will delight the eye and their sweet narratives will ignite the imagination. Probing novels, dramatic biographies and literary excursions into diverse chapters of Jewish history will inspire and inform. Happy reading!
Ages 2 to 9
Kar-Ben Publishing has an outpouring of well-told tales for tots to grade-school youngsters (most are 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback). Special emphasis is given to Jewish holidays, with each story told with verve and enhanced by charming drawings.
In A Hanukkah With Mazal by Joel Edward Stein (illustrated by Elisa Vavouri), the spirit of Hanukkah is aglow when Misha, a poor artist, shares the holiday with a stray cat, offering the hungry animal half of his latkes. Because Misha is too poor to buy candles, he fulfills the mitzvah of lighting the hanukkiyah by painting it. He is amply rewarded for his lovingkindness and piety, a reminder that the Festival of Lights is also the festival of miracles.
Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman’s Potatoes at Turtle Rock is a disappointing Hanukkah tale. It recounts a family’s nocturnal trek to Turtle Rock from their farm to celebrate the first night of the holiday with prayers, songs, riddles and potatoes (a new tradition). Unfortunately, the illustrations by Alex Steele-Morgan are dark, the text too striving and the riddles obscure. Hopefully, the potatoes saved the day.
In The Cricket and the Ant: A Shabbat Story (translated by Nancy Wellins; illustrated by Shahar Kober), Israeli author Naomi Ben-Gur teaches the importance of preparing for the day of rest.
Maya reaches a new understanding of the celebration of the Shemini Atzeret holiday in Susan Tarcov’s Maya Prays for Rain (illustrated by Ana Ochoa).
The appropriately titled Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town by Laura Aron Milhander (illustrated by Inna Chernyak) is about the Three Little Pigs—Rishon, Sheni and Shlishi, Hebrew for first, second and third—who are so excited by the festive Purim carnival they even take the Big Bad Wolf with them to the fair to eat the Purim delicacy—because wolves should also have a happy holiday!
Sammy, that incorrigible spider, is eager to go to synagogue to celebrate Ben’s bar mitzvah in Sammy Spider’s First Bar Mitzvah by Sylvia A. Rouss (illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn). He adds to the happiness of the day by hiding among the candies that assure Ben “a sweet life filled with Torah.”
Eric A. Kimmel tells a tale of tzedakah in Gabriel’s Horn (illustrated by Maria Surducan), which is resonant with mystery about a tarnished musical instrument that grows brighter and brighter, mitzvah by mitzvah.
Shalom Everybodeee!: Grover’s Adventures in Israel by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer (illustrated by Tom Leigh; this one is 24 pp. $16.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback) finds Grover taking a trip to Israel, where he celebrates Shabbat in Jerusalem. He also participates in an archaeological dig, eats falafel, volunteers on a kibbutz and climbs Masada. Lucky Grover and lucky young readers who share his happy adventures.
Ages 5 to 10
In On One Foot by Linda Glaser (illustrated by Nuria Balaguer; Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback), a young seeker of Torah wisdom learns an important lesson from Rabbi Hillel and repeats it while standing on one foot: “Do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you.”
In An After Bedtime Story (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 48 pp. $16.95), Israeli author Shohan Smith, translator Annette Appel and illustrator Einat Tsarfati tell the universal story of toddlers reluctant to surrender to sleep and the loving family that tolerates nocturnal antics.
The chestnut tree that stood in an Amsterdam courtyard offered hope and beauty to Anne Frank as she filled the pages of her red-and-white diary in hiding. In The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window (illustrated by Peter McCarty; Knopf Books for Young Readers, 40 pp. $17.99), Jeff Gottesfeld relates how the tree survived a terrible war but, sadly, the girl who had delighted in it died a sad, painful death. Finally, the lovely tree also “passed into history,” but like Anne’s words, it lives on through its saplings that grow throughout the world and continue to delight children.
There’s a multitude of animals in Noah’s ark—and a multitude of meals for Noah and his wife, Naama, to prepare. The daunting task is made even more difficult by the hungry chameleons, who are picky eaters. That problem is solved in The Chameleon that Saved Noah’s Ark when enterprising Israeli author Yael Molchadsky and artist Orit Bergman (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers, 32 pp. $16.99) employ lilting words and enchanting drawings that ultimately satisfy the culinary demands of those pesky chameleons.
A holiday story by Rochelle Kochin, The Little Esrog (illustrated by Janice Hechter; Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, 36 pp. $14.95), is as delightful as its central character. The little esrog’s friends tease him saying, “Who would want you for the mitzvah when they can have a big beautiful esrog?” The little esrog fears he is too small to be selected for the blessing. But when calamity strikes and his “big beautiful” companions lose the precious tip (pitom) that makes them kosher—making them only good for jam—the little esrog is held reverently by the congregants as his fragrance graces their holiday.
Ages 8 to 12
Becky Laff wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Joseph the Dreamer (Kar-Ben Publishing, 48 pp. $16.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback), which re-creates the biblical story in whimsical cartoons as brightly imagined as the hero’s coat of many colors.
In My Aunt Manya: Based on a True Story (illustrated by Patricia Drew; Troubador Publishing, 77 pp. $9.99), José Patterson introduces us to 10-year-old Sarah, who travels alone to America to escape the harsh anti-Semitism of Czarist Russia. In letters to her Aunt Manya, Sarah, an engaging and spunky heroine, recounts her adventures—and, as her Aunt Manya would say, her mazal!
Ages 11 to 15
In Janet Ruth Heller’s The Passover Surprise (illustrated by Ronald Kauffman; Fictive Press, 48 pp. $11), Jewish traditions, stamp collecting, sibling rivalry and familial affection are all part of the story of Lisa, who craves a “big blue stamp album” as a gift for finding the afikoman. Readers will root for Lisa and a happy holiday.
The fictional story of Sophie and Rose, teenage sisters who support their sick mother by working in a Toronto sweatshop during the Great Depression, re-creates the immigrant experience with tender observation and graphic detail. 44 Hours or Strike! (Second Story Press, 136 pp. $11.95) by Anne Dublin is about the historic struggle for social justice typified by the famous Toronto Dressmakers Strike of 1944, which provides provides the narrative with dramatic momentum. Sophie and Rose courageously join the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and endure the hardships of a windswept picket line, anti-Semitic taunts, physical assaults and even the horror of imprisonment. Their romantic involvements, their commitment to Judaism and their amazing tenacity invigorate the story.
Dublin, a compassionate writer and diligent researcher, enhanced her work with photographs of the strikers and the urban landscape of their lives.
Gloria Goldreich’s latest novel is The Bridal Chair, on the life of Marc Chagall and his daughter, Ida.