Latkes, a Spy and a Mud Monster, Our Children’s Book Roundup
Newly published titles will feed children’s appetites for satisfying tales and captivating illustrations. Young readers can make the acquaintance of a baseball-playing spy or a German Jewish schoolgirl who became the world’s first female rabbi. And for the pre-bar and bat mitzvah set, there are touching stories on adoption and sisterhood as well as a fun mystery book.
Ages 1 to 9
Kar-Ben Publishing offers a profusion of gaily illustrated books, most of the charming stories compressed into 32 pages and available in both hardcover for $17.99 and paperback for $7.99.
Where’s the Potty on This Ark? By Kerry Olitzky. Illustrated by Abigail Tompkins.
This sweet modern midrash describes how Noah and his wife, Naamah, welcome the animals as they enter the ark two by two. Ever mindful of their needs, the couple arranged different-sized potties—big ones for elephants and little ones for lizards—a not-so-subtle lesson for potty trainees.
A Queen in Jerusalem By Tami Shem-Tov and Rachella Sandbank. Translated by Tirza Sandbank. Illustrated by Avi Ofer.
Malka is sad because her busy mother has no time to make her a costume for Purim. When she wanders into the courtyard of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, she meets artist Boris Schatz, the academy’s founder. After hearing her lament, Schatz has his talented weavers, metalworkers and artists create a Queen Esther costume for Malka, who, true to her name, will be a “queen in the streets of Jerusalem.”
Light the Menorah!: A Hanukkah Handbook By Jacqueline Jules. Illustrated by Kristina Swarner.
Both lovely to look at and fact-filled, Light the Menorah!: A Hanukkah Handbook is a colorfully illustrated, fun-filled guide to all things Hanukkah: how to light the candles (left to right), a retelling of the story of Hanukkah as well as songs, crafts and recipes. Also included is a discussion of the role of women in the Hanukkah tale.
And There Was Evening and There Was Morning By Harriet Cohen Helfand and Ellen Kahan Zager. Illustrated by Ellen Kahan Zager.
The seven days of Creation are captured in simple verses and Hebrew words are used to artistic effect. The illustrations are innovative, and a whimsical glossary is a welcome bonus.
All Eyes on Alexandra By Anna Levine. Illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto.
This charming book celebrates Israel’s twice-yearly migrations of birds from Asia and Africa. Alexandra, a wide-winged crane, leads her flock as she soars over Syria and above Lebanon, flying with the winds and thermal currents back to Israel where the birds dip their wings into the Mediterranean Sea and frolic in the waterfall of Ein Gedi.
The World Needs Beautiful Things By Leah Rachel Berkowitz. Illustrated by Daniele Fabbri.
Throughout the Israelites’ journey from Egypt, small Bezalel carried his box of beautiful objects—“shiny stones, dyed string, and even a bug if it had shiny, shimmering green wings”—gathered from nature’s bounty. Bezalel is happy to use his treasures to help create the mishkan, God’s dwelling place, because “God loves beautiful things too.” The beauty of the fluidly drawn images enhances the story.
Ages 3 to 9
Room for Rent By Leah Goldberg. Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Setbon. Illustrated by Shmuel Katz. (Gefen Books, 24 pp. $17.95)
A poem for children by the great Hebrew poet Leah Goldberg, who died in 1970, teaches the importance of acceptance and tolerance as a diverse community of insects, birds and animals searches for a new tenant for their rooming house. Katz’s illustrations delight the eyes and Setbon’s ingenious rhymes roll off the tongue.
Fast Asleep in a Little Village in Israel By Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod. Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke. (Apples and Honey Press, 32 pp. $17.95)
After a dry, hot Israeli summer, the miracle of rain (geshem) brings joy and quiet (sheket) to Mrs. Straus’s sweet little village. Olives will be harvested, pomegranate trees will cast “their cool shade” as a “wonderful wet new day” begins. Lovely drawings accompany a simple text.
Bitter and Sweet By Sandra V. Feder. Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker. (Groundwood Press, 32 pp. $17.95)
Hannah is moving to a new town, and she is sad and frightened until her grandmother shares her own story of moving across an ocean to a new country, telling her: “I was scared…but we made a new life…new friends. Definitely some bitter but even more sweet.” Hannah also finds new life and new friends after her move. A helpful afterword explains that in Jewish tradition sweetness and bitterness often meld.
Regina Persisted: An Untold Story By Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. Illustrated by Margeaux Lucas. (Apples and Honey Press, 32 pp. $17.95)
Regina Jonas was told that she should “stop studying with the rabbi…learn to cook and sew.” But she persisted, determined to become a rabbi. Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, herself a rabbi, writes of Jonas’s tenacity and her triumphant achievement in 1935 when she was ordained as “the first woman rabbi in the entire world.” Tragically, the last congregation she served was that of the Jewish prisoners of Theresienstadt. In 1944, Jonas was murdered in Auschwitz, but her story lives on in Sasso’s sensitive text and Lucas’s evocative drawings.
Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups By Shanna Silva. Illustrated by Bob McMahon. (Apples and Honey Press, 32 pp. $17.95)
Hannah’s hiccups begin just before Hanukkah and last all eight days. Will they abate so she can sing “I Have a Little Dreidel” in her Hebrew school’s holiday program? Suspense builds as candles are lit, latkes devoured and suggestions pour in from her Hester Street neighbors on the Lower East Side. Can peanut butter on latkes be the solution? Sadly, no. And then Hannah takes the stage and the surprise ending is as witty and joyous as McMahon’s drawings.
American Golem: The New World Adventures of an Old World Mud Monster Written and illustrated by Marc Lerner. (Apples and Honey Press, 40 pp. $17.95)
A fearful immigrant boy creates a golem to protect himself against possible enemies in a strange land only to discover that friends and baseball are all the protection he needs in the United States. The golem, however, is a great batter.
Ages 8 and Up
The Edelweiss Pirates By Jennifer Elvgren. Illustrated by Daniela Stamatiadi. (Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback)
The Edelweiss Pirates, a group of courageous young Germans, defy Hitler with anti-Nazi acts and nocturnal street concerts, where they play music deemed impure by the Third Reich. Kurt, a jazz lover and trumpet player, is too young to join them but not too young to drown out Richard Wagner’s music at a school concert by playing the “St. Louis Blues.” The pirates were an army of 5,000 idealists who were often beaten and imprisoned—some were executed. A tale of courage well told.
The Spy Who Played Baseball By Carrie Jones. Illustrated by Gary Cherrington. (Kar-Ben Publishing, 32 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback)
Moe Berg was educated at Princeton University and a genius at languages as well as a Major League baseball player. A proud Jewish American, he served his country by parachuting into Yugoslavia to spy on Germany’s progress in creating an atomic bomb. Modest Moe rejected President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s offer of the Medal of Merit for his heroism; baseball and books were all the rewards he wanted.
Pickled Watermelon By Esty Schachter. Illustrated by Alex Orbe. (144 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $8.99 paperback)
Eleven-year-old Molly wants to spend the summer in camp with her American friends, but instead she is facing a frightening prospect: She is off to Israel to attend a family wedding and meet her Hebrew-speaking grandparents, aunts and uncles. Once in Nahariya, however, she is entranced by her family and excited to be living on her Aunt Rivka’s kibbutz. She discovers that the Hebrew language is not as formidable as she had feared and learns about her family’s sad history in Romania. She munches on delicious pickled watermelon (avatiach hamutz), a Romanian treat that she learns to love, even as she learns to love the country that has taken hold of her heart.
Meet Me at the Well: The Girls and Women of the Bible By Jane Yolen and Barbara Diamond Goldin. Illustrated by Vali Mintzi (Charlesbridge, 112 pp. $18.99)
Biblical women, write the authors, are “strong willed and tough minded…courageous, inventive and smart”—apt superlatives for their subjects, who range from Eve of Eden to Queen Esther of Persia. Torah texts, midrashim and lyrical poems by Yolen and imaginative vignettes by Goldin invigorate the stories of these unique mothers and daughters, sisters and friends. The title recalls how women traditionally met at a well where, like the matriarch Rebecca, they might “discover their future husbands.” This happy reading and learning experience is augmented by Mintzi’s illustrations and enhanced by an excellent bibliography.
Pinky Bloom and the Case of the Missing Kiddush Cup By Judy Press. Illustrated by Erica-Jane Waters. (80 pp. $16.99 hardcover, $8.99 paperback)
Pinky (a.k.a. Pnina) uses all her detecting skills, aided and abetted by her brother Avi, to both solve the mystery of an ancient Kiddush cup purloined from a museum and save her best friend’s family’s kosher Chinese restaurant.
A fun caper with an appealing cast
The Length of a String By Elissa Brent Weissman (Dial Books for Young Readers, 384 pp. $17.99)
Imani is preparing for her bat mitzvah and her adoptive parents have promised her a gift of her choice. She knows exactly what she wants. As a black child raised in a white community, Imani longs to discover the truth about her birth parents but fears her family might see that desire as rejection. When her great-grandmother Anna passes away, she leaves her books to Imani, including a journal dating back to 1941. In it, Imani learns that Anna was rescued from Nazi-occupied Luxembourg at age 12 and adopted by an American couple. Thus begins a book within a book, whose entries echo Imani’s emotional dilemma with the journal’s focus on identity, adoption, choice and abandonment. Anna writes to the sister left behind that “our deepest minds are connected by an invisible yarn, the way we used to tie string between paper cups and whisper secret messages.” Anna’s life becomes Imani’s connecting piece of string and gives her the courage to reveal her yearnings to her family.
You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone By Rachel Lynn Solomon (Simon Pulse, 384 pp. $17.99 hardcover, $12.99 paperback)
An ominous title introduces the troubling story of fraternal twins Tova and Adina Siegel. Adina aspires to a career as a viola soloist and Tova is determined to become a surgeon. The high school seniors are haunted, however, by the fear that they may have inherited their Israeli-born mother’s incurable Huntington’s disease. In alternating chapters, the twins tell their story, each voice capturing their conflicting emotions. Suspense abounds as a genetic test reveals that one of the twins does indeed carry the fatal gene. As the months pass, they each experience self-discovery, recognize their sibling rivalry and, ultimately, reconcile. Solomon’s ending is neither happy nor unhappy, yet oddly satisfying. This is a remarkably complex book by a gifted writer.
Gloria Goldreich’s most recent book is The Bridal Chair.