Where Children Rule, Books for Young Readers
Gaily illustrated picture books on Jewish themes will delight the youngest readers, who are sure to giggle at three adorable kittens touring the magical city of Jerusalem and smile at the huge pumpkin that may decorate a Sukkah. Books for adolescents and pre-adolescents focus on the stresses of bar and bat mitzvah preparation and the push and pull of having families from different cultures.
Apples & Honey press, a Behrman House imprint, offers a selection of enticing picture books, each capturing the essence of Jewish joy. The following sturdy 32-page hardcovers are priced at $17.99, and all are geared toward ages 3 to 9.
Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor By Ann D. Koffsky. Illustrated by Talitha Shipman.
Judah wants to protect his baby sister, Hannah, with the Maccabee shield his grandmother gave him for Hanukkah. On the eighth day of the holiday, at a visit to the doctor to be vaccinated, he learns what “being the best and the bravest” really means.
The Goblins of Knottingham: A History of Challah By Zoë Klein. Illustrated by Beth Bogert.
A fanciful story introduces three little goblins—Knotty, Knotsalot and Notnow—and relates the origin of the delicious loaves essential to every Shabbat and festival table. The book also notes that the loaves are symbolic because “a braided bread means a tangle-free world.”
Journey through Jerusalem By Amanda Benjamin. Illustrated by Tamar Blumenfeld.
These three little kittens have discovered the wonders of Jerusalem. With their mother as guide, they mew their way from the windmill of Yemin Moshe to Hezekiah’s Tunnel, then on to the colorful market of the Old City. When hunger overtakes them, they head to the food stalls of Machaneh Yehudah. This is a cleverly written and imaginatively illustrated child’s guide to the Holy City.
Kar-Ben Publishing, always prolific and innovative, has again published an entertaining and impressive selection of picture books on a variety of themes. Hardcover titles are $17.99, paperbacks are $7.99, and almost all are 32 pages. For ages 3 to 10.
Way Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm By Linda Glaser. Illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic.
Faigel cannot remember her latke recipe. Her husband, Shmuel, seeks the advice of the Rabbi of Chelm, whose answer demonstrates the generosity and hospitality typical of the Festival of Lights. There can never be too many latkes for hungry Chelmites—who are not foolish enough to stop eating the delicious and bountiful holiday treat.
A Concert in the Sand By Tami Shem-Tov and Rachella Sandbank. Illustrated by Avi Ofer.
On a wintry day in 1935 Tel Aviv, Uri and his German-speaking grandmother join a parade of excited citizens as they hurry to a newly built auditorium for the first performance of what will one day become the world famous Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. That initial concert—conducted by Arturo Toscanini—taught Uri that music “can enter his ears and go straight to his heart.” The authors have rescued an important fragment of Zionist history, and Avi Ofer’s gentle drawings are heartwarming.
The Cholent Brigade By Michael Herman. Illustrated by Sharon Harmer.
A mitzvah deserves to be reciprocated, so when Marty Nudelman hurts his back shoveling snow for his neighbors, they each bring him a different savory cholent dish for a festive Shabbat potluck lunch. Included is a classic recipe for the hearty stew that has sustained Jewish families for generations.
The Best Sukkot Pumpkin Ever By Laya Steinberg. Illustrated by Colleen Madden.
Young Micah finds the perfect pumpkin to decorate his family’s sukkah, “as round and full as the moon at Sukkot.” But spurred by the mitzvah of tikkun olam, he donates it instead to decorate the local soup kitchen as well as gives another perfect small pumpkin to make a soup that will feed the hungry. Micah then gathers seeds from a third decaying pumpkin and plants them so that he will have “the best Sukkot pumpkin ever—next year.” Jolly pictures accompany helpful suggestions for family-based tikkun olam activities.
Other selections of stories for children ages 3 to 9 run the gamut from eating Indian food on Hanukkah to a competition between knish-makers.
Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas By Pamela Ehrenberg. Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 40 pp. $16.99)
Sadie’s big brother feels lucky because “making Indian food that my mom ate as a kid for a Jewish holiday that my dad grew up with” is so much fun, especially when it is “yummy” Indian dosas. Those spicy pancakes are made with rice and dal (split black and yellow lentils) and fried in coconut oil. Preparation is tricky when Sadie, “who climbed too much,” was around, but her brother quieted her by singing, “I had a little dosa, I made it out of dal” in the jaunty tune he learned in Hebrew school. His song and Sadie’s climbing save the day and rescue the family’s Hanukkah celebration at a moment of crisis. Sarkar’s colorful drawings enhance the charming story, and recipes for dosas and a similar dish called sambar are delicious additions.
Little Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale By Gloria Koster. Illustrated by Sue Eastland. (Albert Whitman, 32 pp. $16.99)
Clever little Ruthie is way shrewder than her fabled namesake Little Red Riding Hood. Carrying her basket of sour cream and applesauce en route to her grandmother’s house to make latkes, she is waylaid by a very hungry, very big, very bad wolf. Brave as a Maccabee, she persuades him to wait while she fries a batch of latkes, and when he has gorged himself into oblivion, she sends him on his way with a jelly donut for dessert. Safe and sound, Ruthie and Grandma eat their own latkes and light the first Hanukkah candle.
Almost a Minyan By Lori S. Kline. Illustrated by Susan Simon. (Sociosight Press, 40 pp. $17.99)
A young girl describes in rhyme her father’s commitment to the daily minyan in their “one shul” town and explains the importance of a prayer quorum. After her beloved grandfather dies, her father waits until she reaches her bat mitzvah and then invites her to join him as a “minyanaire.” Warmly welcomed by other participants—and wearing her grandfather’s tallit and tefillin—she feels herself “connected to Papa and Zayde and all they respected.” This quiet story has a profound message.
The Knish War on Rivington Street By Joanne Oppenheim. Illustrated by Jon Davis. (Albert Whitman, 32 pp. $16.99)
A charming true story of a competition in 1916 between two rival knish stores on the Lower East Side describes an escalating battle with humorous dimensions. Its resolution required the intervention of the mayor of New York City, who declared Rivington Street the Knish Capital of the World. Molly and Mrs. Tisch, the vying chefs, are long gone, but the author—herself partial to “round potato knishes”—includes recipes from both stores.
The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew By Richard Michelson. Illustrated by Karla Gudeon. (Charlesbridge, 32 pp. $16.99)
Ben-Zion’s father, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, wanted his son to speak only in Hebrew, “the language of angels.” This made Ben-Zion lonely because the other children (who did not know Hebrew) teased and taunted him. Then his father taught the language to his classmates—and soon Ben-Zion had many friends, all of them chattering away in the reborn ancient language. This Junior Library Guild Selection has an informative afterword that tells the story of the brave Ben-Yehuda family and their unique contribution to the State of Israel and the Diaspora community.
Readers ages 8 to 12 have their own share of page-turners with a variety of chapter books—some humorous, others sobering, but all absorbing reading experiences with fictional and nonfictional characters sprinting into imagination and memory.
Lucky Broken Girl By Ruth Behar (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 219 pp. $16.99)
Ruthie Mizrachi, whose Jewish family has immigrated to New York City from Cuba, is just beginning to feel at home in her new country when an automobile accident lands her in a debilitating body cast and confines her to bed for an extended period. The author, herself a Cuban Jewish immigrant who endured a similar trauma, writes Ruthie’s story as a celebration of American diversity. We meet Ruthie’s loving family, her dedicated teachers and a community of immigrants from many countries. One sympathetic teacher tells her about creative Jewish women like poet Emma Lazarus who overcame adversity and assures her that “one day your life will be a story.” And indeed it is.
This Is Just a Test By Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang (Scholastic Press, 234 pp. $17.99)
David Dar-Wei Horowitz is having a tough year: He is preparing for his bar mitzvah, navigating between his sparring Jewish and Chinese grandmothers, worrying about nuclear war and training for a trivia tournament. Add to that his complicated relationships with his friends—who are his partners in building a fallout shelter—and pretty Kelli Ann, whom he may invite to his bar mitzvah. While the upcoming bar mitzvah figures large in this funny, clever book, it is mainly discussed in terms of invitations, caterers, themes and gifts; the only mention of its deeper meaning is limited to David’s father’s anemic statement that “a bar mitzvah is a celebration of the Jewish part of David’s life.” True, his Jewish grandmother wants to be called safta because “Hebrew is more Jewish” (though the spelling savta is more accurate), but that same grandmother takes David shopping for his bar mitzvah suit on Shabbat. This book is indeed amusing and evocative of the obsessions of the 1980s but it could have been so much more.
City of Grit and Gold By Maud Macrory Powell (Allium Press of Chicago, 139 pp. $16.99)
Twelve-year-old Addie’s Chicago-based immigrant Jewish family is painfully divided between an uncle, Chaim, who supports the nascent labor movement, and her Papa, who owns a small hat shop. This debut novel draws on true events, showing how the Haymarket Affair of 1886—the rioting after a bomb blast disrupts a rally to support workers seeking an eight-hour workday—and its tragic aftermath created turmoil in a poor Jewish neighborhood. Addie protects her siblings, assists her overburdened mother and understands her beloved uncle’s campaign for social justice, all balanced against her father’s commitment to law and order.
Gloria Goldreich’s most recent book is The Bridal Chair: A Novel.