Books for Your Kids and Grandkids
Don’t just buy books for your kids. Read with them. Here are some great stories for youngsters that parents and grandparents can also enjoy:
New Moon By Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael. Illustrated by Susan Cathcart and Marilyn Kane. (Three Gems Publishing, 68 pp. $18)
The magic of the moon enchants small Rose as she stares up at it through the branches of her family’s sukkah. On Passover, she imagines how it shone down on the Jewish people during their trek from Egypt. But it is the observance of Rosh Hodesh, when the light of a new moon fills the sky, that especially excites her. Rose’s mother and her friends see Rosh Hodesh as having special meaning for girls and women. They organize a celebration at which they tell stories of Jewish women like Miriam the prophetess, the queens Esther and Vashti and brave Judith. They sing songs, eat lunar- shaped cookies and greet the new moon, joyous and full voiced. This non-traditional narrative has its own unique energy and the inclusion of a coloring book is an incentive for girls like Rose to join in the fun of what her mother calls a sisterhood. Ages 3 to 5. Coloring Book, Ages 5 to 9.
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Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy By Richard Michelson. Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 40 pp. $17.99)
The biography of Leonard Nimoy (a.k.a. Mr. Spock of Star Trek renown) is aptly named. The life of the gifted actor was indeed fascinating and the impact of his Jewish heritage on his art was profound. The child of immigrant parents who maintained a traditional Jewish home, he especially loved the Rosh Hashanah service at Boston’s Temple Beth Israel where he watched as the kohanim of the congregation “raised both arms and held out their hands…their fingers resembling the letter shin which he’d learned in Hebrew school was the first letter of the word shalom….” That gesture became the famous hand salute of Mr. Spock and an expression of Nimoy’s commitment to Jewish values. Like the character he portrayed on the epic show, Leonard Nimoy “stood up to bullies, argued for justice…and the right to live peacefully” —in shalom. Watch for the documentary For the Love of Spock by his son, Adam Nimoy for additional insights into the life of this fascinating and proud Jew. Ages 4 to 8.
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The Life of an Olive By D. Yael Bernhard. (Heliotrope Books LLC, 38 pp. $21 hardcover, $10.50 paperback)
The talented author/illustrator of this remarkable book might have added as a subtitle “The Life of a People,” given that in both her text and her drawings she recreates the Jewish experience in the land of Israel over 2,000 years. Her narrative centers on a single olive tree that endured, in the Galilee, from the earliest days of the Roman Empire when one Ya’akov presses “a fallen olive into a crack of the earth.” That simple act begets a tree that yields its fruit to generations of Jews who called the land their home. She introduces us to Gilah, who sang of the destruction of the Holy Temple beneath the silver-leafed branches of the tree; Ester, who fled the Spanish Inquisition and found a small treasure in its bark; Ida and Yankel from Belarus, who delighted in seeing its fruit being pressed into oil; and David, who perched on a branch and watched a Palmach soldier in 1948. The tree stood guardian as Palestine once again became Israel where “like multi- colored olives, people from many nations gather…and are welcomed.” This story of a single resilient tree, its fruit and branches symbols of peace, emphasizes the enduring and eternal partnership of the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Ages 6 to 9.
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The Ship to Nowhere: On Board the Exodus (Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers) By Rona Arato. (Second Story Press, 176 pp. $14.95)
A new addition to Second Story Press’s Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers, The Ship to Nowhere tells the true story of 11-year-old Rachel Landesman, who, along with her mother and sister, were among the 4,500 Holocaust survivors who boarded a ship called the S.S. President Warfield, which they hoped and prayed would carry them to the homeland of their people, Palestine. Renamed The Exodus, the ship, in bad repair from the outset, is ill-fated, its voyage subject to threats and danger, its passengers assaulted by illness, privation and dire conditions but sustained by hope. That hope is nurtured by the crew of young Israelis and American Jewish volunteers committed to the Zionist ideals of the Haganah and determined to bring the desperate refugees to safely and freedom.
Rachel makes friends with other children onboard the ship, listening to their stories of loss and tragedy. She is inspired by their unbroken faith in the goodness of others. The Exodus was unable to bring its hopeful passengers to Palestine, but their heroism and determination aroused the attention and sympathy of the world, contributing to the decision of the United Nations a year later to create the State of Israel
Rona Arato, was able to interview Rachel (now Rachel Fletcher) in Toronto, and her memories, as well as archival photographs, invigorate this important and moving narrative. Ages 9 to 13.
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Dreidels on the Brain By Joel Ben Izzy. (Penguin Young Readers/Dial Books, 320 pp. $17.99)
Young readers are spirited back to Hanukkah 1971 when President Nixon is in the White House—his head sculpted in chopped liver appearing on a bar mitzvah buffet, just so you know what to expect. That is the year when the author’s “seriously funny-looking hero,” 12-year-old Joel, an aspiring magician, bargains with God for “just one lousy Hanukkah miracle. Is that too much to ask?” Apparently it is, because God is not forthcoming. Over the eight nights of the holiday, which conveniently divide the narrative into chapters, Joel’s life goes from bad to worse, from just funny to absolutely hilarious, even as his family, the appropriately named Buttskys, cheerfully survive poverty, carrot loafs, hospitalizations, near death and a paranoid grandmother’s nervous breakdown. It takes a masterful storyteller to coax laughter from tragedy, so hats off to Ben Izzy, who turns Joel’s magician stint at a Hanukkah party in an old-age home into mayhem, his appearance at his school’s Christmas party (as the only Jewish boy in his class, he is charged with telling the story of Hanukkah) into a riotous party where the funky chicken is danced to “If I Were a Rich Man” and Joel transforms into his own superhero Normalman.
Dreidels on the Brain bursts with humor, jokes exploding in unlikely sequence (e.g. “Hebrew is for praying, Yiddish is for complaining”). Houdini, himself a Jewish magician, makes a brief appearance, the Holocaust is discussed with surprising insight and Joel finally understands that the miracle he demanded is his because “we have something that keeps us going no matter how dark it gets—something that glows in the dark.” Dreidels on the Brain is a remarkable book and Joel Buttsky, funny-looking as he may be, is a remarkable boy. Hoping for a sequel when he becomes bar mitzvah but in the interim read and laugh. Ages 10 to 14.
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We Are in Exile Estamos En Galut: A Novel By Mara W. Cohen Ioannides. (Hadassa Word Press, 128 pp. $12.50)
A Jewish family in Rhodes rises against privation in a heroic effort to sustain their precious heritage during the difficult years between World War I and World War II. The children of the family (with special attention paid to 8-year-old Alejandro) romp through the holidays, joyously observing Hanukkah, Purim and Pesach, singing in their beloved grandmother’s Ladino and observing the unique traditions of their people, even as they interact in peace and pleasantness with their non-Jewish classmates. When poverty overwhelms them and war threatens, the family leaves for America carrying with them memories of the Juderia, the Jewish quarter of their island home. A sad epilogue chronicles the Nazi destruction of that once vibrant Jewish community, but its lost vitality is wonderfully captured by Mara Cohen Ioannides in her tender and admirably researched novel. Ages 13 to 17.
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