Fun Reads for the Very Young
Picture books that delight the eye, tales of doing mitzvot, Shabbat surprises and a a sukka in Shanghai are among the subjects of the varied new titles of Jewish interest geared to young (and the youngest) readers.
A very warm welcome to a new imprint, the aptly named Apples & Honey Press, a cooperative venture of Behrman House, the veteran American Jewish publisher, and Gefen Publication House of Jerusalem. Their first titles, authored and illustrated by Americans and Israelis, promise a bright and colorful future.
At the same time, Kar-Ben Publishing remains unrivaled for both the quality and quantity of its colorful and whimsical books for young and very young readers.
Kar-Ben adds to its library of Very First Board Books, all priced at $5.99, with the eminently chewable 3 Falafels in My Pita: A Counting Book of Israel by Maya Friedman (illustrated by Steve Mack), which concludes with “10 children dancing the hora,” and Hanukkah Is Coming! by Tracy Newman (illustrated by Viviana Garofoli). Jewish Lights has the sturdy, happy That’s a Mitzvah by Liz Suneby and Diane Heiman (illustrated by Laurel Molk; $8.99) featuring smiling animals—including a trio of raccoons—doing good deeds, such as visiting the sick by bringing soup to an ailing lion.
Ages 2 to 8
Mazel Tov! It’s a Boy/Mazel Tov! It’s a Girl by Jamie Korngold (photos by Jeff Finkelstein; Kar-Ben, 32 pp. $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback) is a doubleheader focused on the parallel ceremonies for a newborn boy and a newborn girl—brit mila for him and brit bat or simhat bat for her. The color photos of a multigenerational family event are pleasing, as is the emphasis on the importance of names and continuity. However, given that the father of the infants is named Abraham, a mention of the covenantal nature of the ceremony would have been appropriate. The word mohel appears without explanation, which might perplex young readers.
Because her teasing classmates call her Amoeba, Aviva, the central character in My Name Is Aviva by Leslea Newman (illustrated by Ag Jatkowska. Kar-Ben, 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback) chooses to call herself Emily—until her parents tell her about her wise and courageous grandmother for whom she is named. With newfound pride in her heritage, she proclaims that her name is and will always be Aviva.
Lullaby, the late and beloved Debbie Friedman’s lovely lyrics—put in book form, with an accompanying CD (illustrated by Lorraine Bubar; Jewish Lights, 32 pp. $18.99 hardcover)—will surely lull a child into the safe haven of sweet sleep.
Little Ruthie Tober, skilled knitter and lover of soft wool and bright colors, admires the blue yarn “deeper even than the special blue thread braided into the white tassels of her father’s prayer shawl” that connects Bayla, who is deaf, to her baby, Aaron. In The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner (illustrated by Kristina Swarner; Random House Books for Young Readers, 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover), Ruthie knits mittens “large and small,” with a similar length of string, “to keep Bayla and Aaron warm even on the coldest nights.” This compassionate story introduces children into the silent world of those who cannot hear and includes a knitting glossary and illustrations of sign language.
Preschoolers will want to join Kayla and her dog Kugel in Kayla and Kugel by Ann D. Koffsky (Apples & Honey Press, 24 pp. $9.95 paper) as they merrily set the table for a happy family Shabbat.
In Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles by David A. Adler (illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler; Apples & Honey Press, 32 pp. $17.95 hardcover), Sara watches a poor old man pluck a bruised apple from a discard bin and decides to help him. She and her classmates leave neatly wrapped sandwiches for him, and on Hanukka they include “cookies with sprinkles.” Her act of hesed is rewarded when she invites him to a holiday dinner and he shares his tal–ent for juggling with her.
Sammy the Spider now has a biblical cousin named Akavish (Hebrew for spider, of course) who is saved by a kind-hearted boy named David and in turn saves the life of David, the king of Israel. As always, author Sylvia Rouss in King David & Akavish the Spider (Apples & Honey Press, 34 pp. $9.95 paper) teaches with gentle humor. Her midrash is enhanced by illustrator Ari Binus’s purple Akavish and redheaded David.
Sylvia Rouss has also written The Littlest Pair (illustrated by Holly Hannon; Apples & Honey Press, 30 pp. $9.95 paper.) Noah’s wooden ark is large enough to save pairs of all the world’s animals and insects, but when a pair of soft-voiced termites board, the others are fearful that “they will eat all the bark and the lumber, too—when the ark begins sinking what will we do?” Wise Noah will not evict God’s smallest creatures and in the end they save the day, creating sawdust to cover the slippery decks. Rouss’s couplets are well served by Hannon’s fanciful animals, especially her golden lion.
In Avi the Ambulance Goes to School by Claudia Carson (Apples & Honey Press, 32 pp. $9.95 paper), Avi, a Magen David Adom ambulance, introduces very young readers to Israel’s emergency first responders and explains how lives are saved by caring.
Karen Rostoker-Gruber and Ron Isaacs tell an unlikely tale in Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match (illustrated by CB Decker; Apples & Honey Press, 32 pp. $17.95 hardcover). Kobi, a moshav farmer in search of a wife, is disappointed in his Hanukka date with Polly, who does not love farm animals. The day is saved by the arrival of Ruthie with her own menagerie. A short glossary and topics for familial discussion fail to rescue the silly story.
The Sheep family’s Seder table grows crowded as unexpected arrivals turn up in Laura Gehl’s And Then Another Sheep Turned Up (illustrated by Amy Adele; Kar-Ben, 32 pp. $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback). But there is always room for one more ewe or lamb, ensuring that the Pesah mitzva of welcoming guests is happily fulfilled.
Marcus and his family find refuge from Nazi Germany in Shanghai, where Marcus discovers the miracle of friendship and the answer to a puzzling riddle. In Shanghai Sukkah by Heidi Smith Hyde (illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong; Kar-Ben, 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback), the fragile bamboo sukka Marcus and his fellow yeshiva students build on the roof of their tenement is aglow with beauty, thanks to his friend Liang’s gift of red paper lanterns. This inspiring story of quiet generosity is enhanced by Tsong’s wonderful drawings as well as bonus photographs depicting the Jewish experience in China.
Tamar’s Sukkah by Ellie B. Gellman (illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn; Kar-Ben, 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback) shows how tiny Tamar’s bigger and older friends help her decorate her sukka and share her pride and hap-piness at a celebratory party.
A chain reaction of mitzvot is launched in One Good Deed by Terri Fields (illustrated by Deborah Melmon; Kar-Ben, 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback) when Jake shares his mulberries with Mrs. Thomson, his African-American neighbor, and Lancaster Street is transformed into a warm-hearted community.
Reasons for chanting the prayer of gratitude dance across the pages in Joanne Rocklin’s I Say Shehechiyanu (illustrated by Monika Filipina; Kar-Ben, 24 pp. $16.95 hardcover, $6.95 paperback). Included are the lighting of Hanukka candles, a baby brother’s new tooth and a sweetly unfurling bud.
Joey in Joey and the Giant Box (Kar-Ben Favorites) by Deborah Lakritz (illustrated by Mike Byrne; Kar-Ben, 32 pp. $7.95 paperback) turns the “ginormous” box, which contained his family’s new dishwasher, into the Star of David Food Bank, which he and his classmates fill with food “to feed hungry people.” His creative mitzva becomes an ongoing project for Joey and his generous friends.
Actress Amanda Peet along with cowriter Andrea Toyer has released the fun title Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein (illustrated by Christine Davenier; Doubleday, 40 pp. $17.99 hardcover) just in time for Hanukka season, when so many young Jewish kids ask their parents if they can have a Christmas tree and put up lights in their windows. All turns out well for Rachel when she goes to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day and realizes that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and that is O.K.
Anna Levine’s delightful “Jodie” series continues in Jodie’s Shabbat Surprise (illustrated by Ksenia Topaz; Kar-Ben, 32 pp. $17.95 hardcover, $7.99 paperback) as Jodie, during her pre-Shabbat walk, finds the perfect birthday gift for her archaeologist father. Only in Israel could a small girl and her dog discover an ancient winepress. Levine’s true story of a wonderful find in Jerusalem’s Ramot Forest should inspire young readers and their families to visit the archaeological site of Ramot Forest.
Ages 7 to 10
Flori Senor Rosenthal’s Nono’s Kisses for Sephardic Children (Legacy and Literacy Scholastic Series, 34 pp. $13.95 paperback) is a charmingly illustrated book of Ladino words. It will delight children with its explanation of Sefardic cadence and the joy of discovering the Hebrew root in such words as kashika de sedaka, which means charity box.