Books: Hanukka Is Also For Reading
The remarkable and varied array of newly available titles is certain to delight the youngest of readers and engage the interest of their older friends and siblings. Ranging from charming picture books to novels and biographies, the choices are enticing and subtly focus on Jewish knowledge and values. Illustrators and authors alike conspire to capture the minds and hearts of those youthful page turners who will journey with them to Prague and Jerusalem, soaring on the wings of imagination to contemporary Israel, the immigrant world of New York’s Lower East Side and even to baseball parks where Jewish players made history.
The text is by Mirik Snir, the images (bottom right) by her daughter Eleyor Snir; together they created a sweet, graceful book and visual treat about a mother’s memories of the beauty of the world on the day of her child’s birth. When I First Held You: A Lullaby From Israel was translated from the Hebrew by Mary Jane Shubow (Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $9.95).
In The Doll Shop Downstairs by Yona Zeldis McDonough (illustrated by Heather Maione; Viking Juvenile, 188 pp. $14.99), Anna, Sophie and Trudie Breitelman’s parents own a doll repair shop on New York’s Lower East Side. With the outbreak of World War I, an embargo is imposed on German imports, including the parts needed for the family business, and they fear for their livelihood. Nine-year-old Anna and her enterprising sisters come to the rescue, stitching and selling cuddly rag dolls instead. Their handmade creations, including a sweet-faced Nurse Nora, sell for a single dollar and lure customers to the Essex Street store. The family continues to sew and sell (but never on Shabbat) as the war wages on and the autumn days drift by. The happy ending will please a new generation of doll lovers.
In Zvuvi’s Israel (illustrated by Ksenia Topaz; Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $16.95, cloth; $7.95, paper), author Tami Lehman-Wilzig gives us a fly-eye’s view of the Land of Israel as buzzing Zvuvi wings his way across the country with his cousin Zahava. They hover over the Western Wall, nibble falafel and slide down the waterfall at Banias. Recalling the popularWhere’s Waldo? books, readers must search for Zvuvi in the pictures—he may be scuba diving in Eilat or skiing down Mount Hermon. Author and artist have created a charming challenge.
Dr. Seuss, make way for Miriam Adahan’s Torah Tigers (illustrated by Menachem Halberstadt; Feldheim Publishers, 48 pp. $17.99), in which cadenced verses teach children to be “bold as a tiger” in acting always with Torah-mandated kindness. Geared to a strictly Orthodox readership, its gentle messages apply to all children who, like Adahan’s narrator, are encouraged to manage “tiger wins.” They, too, may be rewarded by beaming grandparents who “gave us all hugs! They joined in our glory! Said Bubby, ‘This, now, reminds ME of a story!’” The illustrations lend color and humor to a community that may be unfamiliar to a secular audience (the men sport beards and the small boys have payot).
In Sarah Laughs by Jacqueline Jules (illustrated by Natascia Ugliano; Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $8.95), beautiful Sarah accompanies husband Abraham to the land of Canaan where her tent is always open to wayfarers as she awaits the children promised to her by God. When she is an old woman, three angels accept her hospitality and promise her a child. She laughs, but when she indeed becomes a mother she names her baby Isaac, the Hebrew word for laughter. The author relies on midrashic sources for her gracefully told tale and the illustrator is faithful to the whimsical text.
Zachary Shapiro’s We’re All in the Same Boat (illustrated by Jack E. Davis; Putnam Juvenile, 32 pp. $16.99) features bees who are bores, jittery jaguars and obnoxious orangutans. But the ungrateful voyagers calm down when cruise director Noah, appropriately attired in pith helmet and bathrobe with a cell phone at hand, shouts: “We’re all in the same boat!” The moose become merry, the penguins party and the ark “sailed on with a promise of peace.” With Jack Davis’s zany drawings, Shapiro has given us a new approach to a Bible tale beloved by children.
A CD accompanies the brief text of Joe Black’s Boker Tov! Good Morning! (illustrated by Rick Brown; Kar-Ben Publishing, 24 pp. $16.95, cloth; $8.95, paper) and helps teach children to celebrate the onset of a fun-filled day.
My First Yiddish Word Book, edited by Joni Kibort Sussman (illustrated by Pepi Marzel; Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $17.95), makes mameloshen easy for very young Yiddishists. Their newfound vocabulary will enchant loving bubbes who will surely reward them with kikhelekh (cookies). The superb pictures warrant tsen shtern (10 stars).
Brave Nachshon in Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story by Deborah Bodin Cohen (illustrated by Jago; Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $17.95, cloth; $8.95, paper) was not afraid of harsh Egyptian taskmasters nor did he fear the powerful Pharaoh, but the waters of the Nile frightened him. He could not, or would not, learn to swim. Yet when the Egyptian chariots were chasing the Israelites to the Sea of Reeds, Nachshon boldly stepped into the soaring waves because he knew that “real freedom means facing your fears and overcoming them.”
Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob’s sons, accompanies his brothers on a perilous journey to Egypt, where he has a dramatic reunion with his long-lost brother, Joseph. Liberties have been taken with the biblical text in Jacqueline Jules’s Benjamin and the Silver Goblet (illustrated by Natascia Ugliano; Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $17.95, cloth; $8.95, paper), and the happy ending is, perhaps, too happy. But the drawings are colorful and the story, with its complex family dynamics, is certain to trigger thoughtful discussion.
In Sammy Spider’s First Day of School by Sylvia A. Rouss (illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn; Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $16.95, cloth; $7.95, paper), adventurous Sammy hitches a ride to school where he learns about Noah’s ark and the importance of kindness to all creatures. Safely home, he wisely decides, “Spiders don’t go to school. Spiders spin webs.”
Every 28 years, the sun returns to its position at the time of creation and the Jewish people recite a special blessing. Even if you missed the event lst March, read Sandy Wasserman’s The Sun’s Special Blessing (illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky; Pitspopany Press, 36 pp. $17.95), which is a useful teaching tool. In 2009, a third-grade class learns that their teacher and his classmates buried a time capsule 28 years earlier. They dig it up, examine its contents and then create their own time capsule, which they bury after reciting the special prayer.
Getting to Love Our People’s Stories
JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible
Retold by Ellen Frankel.
Illustrated by Avi Katz. (Jewish Publication Society, 240 pp. $35)
Ellen Frankel’s retelling of biblical stories is clearly a labor of love, which she hopes will be handed down to future generations. Her aim, she writes in the introduction, is to “reproduce the unique texture and rhythm of biblical language….”
While the stories are abridged, she has kept the simple narrative style of the Bible. The 53 selections in this glossy, brightly illustrated volume begin with Creation and end with Daniel in the Lion’s Den, thus not only covering the Five Books of Moses, but also the books of Joshua (The Battle of Jericho); Judges (Deborah and Yael, Gideon, Samson); Samuel (Hannah’s Prayer, Samuel the Prophet, Israel’s First King, David and Goliath, King Saul and the Witch of Endor, David Conquers Jerusalem); Kings (The Wisdom of Solomon, Elijah and the Priests of Baal); Jonah (and the Whale); Ruth (and Naomi); and Esther (Saves Her People).
The Children’s Bible will make it clear to its readers, young and old, that the history of the Jewish people always had its highs and lows, though God was an intimate part of the life and trials of the people—whether giving support to Joshua, Gideon and Daniel or withholding it from Saul or the worshipers of Baal. Frankel, until recently chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society, has created a work that dazzles as it teaches.—Zelda Shluker
In The Importance of Wings by Robin Friedman (Charlesbridge Publisher, 176 pp. $15.95), eighth-grader Roxanne (formerly Ravit) is embarrassed by her Israeli cab driver father, saddened by the absence of her mother, who has returned to Israel to care for an ailing relative, and anguished because she is not as “cool” as her American classmates. She longs to be accepted by the popular girls who wear their hair in feathered “wings.” It takes her new neighbor, Liat, a strong and confident Israeli who has not lost her spirit despite her mother’s death in a suicide bombing, to teach Roxanne and her sister the importance of emotional courage and Jewish pride.
A new addition to the admirable Toby Belfer series—Toby Belfer Learns About Heroes and Martyrs by Gloria Teles Pushker and Mel Torman (illustrated by Emile Henriquez; Pelican Publishing, 128 pp. $14.95)—focuses on Toby’s visit to Israel, where she and her classmates tour Yad Vashem on Yom Ha-Shoah and learn about the righteous gentiles who protected Jews during the Holocaust. The American fifth graders decide to write the stories of the extraordinary people who lit small candles in a time of darkness. They include little-known heroes such as Corrie Ten Bloom, a German Christian who hid Jews in her own home at great personal peril; and beautiful Tamara Maximonek Bromberg, who aided the Jews of Odessa. Other chapters are devoted to Germans who defied orders to pillage and murder; heroic diplomats such as Raoul Wallenberg; and members of European royalty and clergy who risked their lives.
The book concludes with a visit to the Paper Clip Children’s Museum in Whitwell, Tennessee, where the students are moved by the 18 butterflies embedded in concrete, symbolizing the yearnings of the Nazis’ smallest victims “to be free as butterflies.” The black-and-white illustrations are grim, but Emile Henriquez captures the faces of brave men and women who lived valiantly during the worst of times.
Varian Fry, a non-Jewish magazine editor, was aware of the impending genocide of European Jewry. In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry by Carla Killough McClafferty (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 208 pp. $19.95) describes how Fry undertook a journey to German-controlled Vichy France on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee. He was determined to save prominent Jewish and non-Jewish artists and intellectuals. His experiences read like an adventure story, threaded with peril and heroism. Disguises, secret hiding places and covert escapes across wintry mountain passes are part of the dramatic narrative. Fry and his courageous team gained the freedom of Hans and Golo Mann, Franz and Alma Werfel, Marc and Bella Chagall, Max Ernst and Jacques Lipschitz, among others. Fry saved 2,000 individuals from the concentration camps, reminding us of the difference one individual can make.
The moving, subtly colored drawings and lyrical text in Mark Podwal’s Built By Angels: The Story of the Old-New Synagogue(Harcourt Children’s Book, 48 pp. $16) capture the mystery of Prague’s ancient synagogue, a graceful structure so beautiful and enduring that it might well have been built by angels using stones carried from the Temple in Jerusalem. Within its walls, legend has it, Rabbi Judah Loew fashioned the Golem and, on its parapets, the beating wings of doves extinguish threatening flames. The myths linked to the synagogue are the stuff that dreams are made of, but, more important, Podwal states, “theAltneuschul is a testament to the perseverance of the Jewish people.”
Hanukkah Around the World (illustrated by Vicki Wehrman; Kar-Ben Publishing, 48 pp. $16.95, cloth; $7.95, paper) is rich in descriptions of the festival of lights as it is celebrated in Modi’in (Israel), New York, Istanbul, Samarkand (Uzbekistan) and Turin (Italy)—wherever Jews make their homes. Author Tami Lehman-Wilzig includes songs in Ladino, Hebrew, Yiddish, English and Russian—and recipes for tasty treats from sufganiyot (doughnuts) to bourekas. Each community celebrates with joy, united by shared history. Descriptions of games and dances abound and Vicki Wehrman’s illustrations are lovely.
How would you answer the question in the title of Jonah Winter’s book You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! (illustrated by André Carrilho; Random House/Schwartz & Wade, 40 pp. $17.99)? Surely, you have heard of Sandy Koufax, the great left-handed pitcher, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who joined the Dodgers (also from Brooklyn, in days gone by) and followed the footsteps of Hank Greenberg, ultimately becoming a strikeout machine. When the 1965 World Series fell on Rosh Hashana, Sandy wasn’t at bat because, he said, “If you’re Jewish, you ain’t supposed to work on a High Holy Day.” The breezy narrative is enhanced by the graceful action illustrations, including an imaginative cover that creates the illusion of movement.H
JEWISH BEST SELLERS
1. Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen by David Sax.(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24)
2. Louis D. Brandeis: A Life by Melvin Urofsky. (Pantheon, $40)
3. The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman. (Norton, $14.95, paper)
4. The Israel Test by George Gilder. (Richard Vigilante Books, $27.95)
5. Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose. (Harper, $24.99)
1. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. (St. Martin’s Griffin, $13.95, paper)
2. Day After Night: A Novel by Anita Diamant. (Scribner, $27)
3. The Defector by Daniel Silva. (Putnam, $26.95)
4. Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner. (Atria, $26.99)
5. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. (Dutton, $25.95)
Courtesy of www.MyJewishBooks.com.
Editor’s Note: Jewish readers purchase books for enjoyment and enlightenment, to reinforce their viewpoints or to see what the opposition is saying. The Top Ten Jewish Best Sellers list reflects only sales and does not imply approval by Hadassah Magazine.