Strong Female Characters, One of Them a Lamb

This season has a number of excellent choices for children’s bedtime repertoire that combine good tales with strong female and oftentimes Jewish characters.

Raisel’s Riddle by Erica Silveman, illustrated by Susan Gaber (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16), despite its quaint sounding name, is in fact a bright and exciting retelling of the traditional Cinderella story. Set in Poland in what appears to be the 18th century, the narrative tells the tale of Raisel, who goes to work for a distinguished rabbi when the grandfather who raised her dies. The story progresses in the classic Cinderella mold, with the cook playing the role of the evil stepmother, until the story’s surprising conclusion, in which knowledge is as prized as beauty is, and Raisel chooses her “prince” even as she is chosen.

In When Mama Gets Home, written and illustrated by Marisabina Russo (Greenwillow, $15), the narrator, a strong little girl, describes her home as she and her siblings prepare for and then enjoy their mama’s return from work. This story of a one-parent family is filled with love. Simply and clearly told, it is a story that can speak to any audience.

Pearl’s Marigolds For Grandpa written and illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben (Simon & Schuster, $15), is a beautiful and delicate story of loss and remembering. Pearl, a female lamb, mourns her grandfather and, with her family, finds ways to remain connected and feel his presence even after his death.

Finally, two holiday stories of note: The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser, illustrations by Nancy Cote (Albert Whitman, $15.95), and Purim Play by Roni Schotter, illustrated by Marilyn Hafner (Little Brown $15.95). Both are stories that have strong girls as narrators and fine morals to boot.

Talia Milgrom-Elcott  enters Harvard Law School this fall.