There has been a phenomenal boom in high-quality Jewish children’s books over the last few years—as witnessed in our LILITH offices by hundreds of galleys, jacket covers and texts spilling from every plausibly horizontal surface. Not only are Jewish book publishers increasingly turning out topnotch titles, but mainstream publishers too are producing savvy, discriminating, upscale Jewish kids’ books. It’s a far cry from the Dark Ages of my own girlhood.
Multiculturalism has been good for the Jews, too—and ethnic tokenism has increasingly given way to a more matter-of-fact diversity. A decade ago it was unlikely that a mainstream publisher’s children’s book would feature a character who is incidentally named Goldberg, or a protagonist who—so, no big deal—happens to celebrate Chanukah instead of Christmas. In fact, a current best-selling historical novel, Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman [HarperTrophy], has a subplot which, by the by, involves the expulsion of the Jews from England in the Middle Ages. And another mainstream title, by Steven Schnur [no relation], offers pre-schoolers an introduction to the alphabet through 26 short poems pertaining to autumn and winter; beside Schnur’s acrostic tropes about acorns, noisy leaves, and sticky snow, Jewish readers will get a sultry thrill from the pleasant vacuum that exists around Christmas.
On the following pages, LILITH’s four young book reviewers—ages 4, 7, 8 and 10—give us their professional top picks. LILITH’s method was to mail each child 25 books (whittled down from hundreds). With each book we included an identical template of nine questions, intended to help the critics not freak out at the dauntingness of their task. We asked the kids to review only the books they liked a lot.
The questions, written by 10-year-old dowager Anna Schnur-Fishman [yes relation], included graceful stumpers such as, ‘Are there any sentences that you really love?,” and “Does this book make you think about anything that you’ve never thought about before?” Edward Baida, LILITH’s 8- year-old reviewer, gave a particularly wonderful response to the question, “Could you relate to the Jewish parts of the book?” “I’m Jewish,” he answered soberly, “and the boy in the book is Jewish. But we’re not related.”
Four grownups supervised the book reviewers—three moms and a bachelor uncle (oh, will dads never return from their boar hunts?), and they all reported that the kids felt very honored by their important jobs; advising other people what to read. From my editorial catbird seat, I found that dealing with my four reviewers beat working with adult writers any day. Isaac, Atara, Edward and Anna met deadlines, had good penmanship, had no dogs who ate things, and didn’t contract flu. They also always return phone calls.
What follows then is, I believe, a foolproof, non-patronizing guide to a range of most favorite reads. The kids’ rating system was five stars (excellent) to zero stars (ugh!). Also, not every book is Jewish. Given LILITH’s overall mission, we also sent the reviewers some titles that address important issues of tolerance, values and/or feminism.
So if you know any kids at all—ages zero to 14—we suggest you begin stockpiling for the long winter siege ahead.
Our 4-Year-old reviewer: Isaac Forman.
In the Beginning
by Miriam Ramsfelder Levin, illustrated by Kathryn Kahn [Kar-Ben, $14.95]. A magnificent book, says Isaac’s helpful Mom, that paraphrases the Genesis story of creation in the context of a boy and his bedroom. The boy is, in a sense, God, as he goes about organizing and “creating” his own space in seven days.
Isaac comments that “my favorite picture is the fish” and that the book is “misty weird.” Mom adds that the language of the book is “very beautiful and evocative of Genesis,” that the illustrations are “lovely,” and that Isaac’s brother Sam, who is 7, “adored this book,”
I Am Rosa Parks
by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins, illustrated by Wil Clay [Dial Easy-to-Read, $12.99]. This first-person story in simple language with “not great illustrations,” says Mom, is “strong and wonderful.”
Isaac notes that the book is about “being fair.” He adds that it is “sad,” and that he will remember for a long time “that the buses stopped running.” He thinks the book is for “older girls because it is about a girl.”
Mom adds that Isaac was “very, very interested in the concept of the boycott—that people could cooperate to stop the buses.” Isaac’s favorite line is, “People said that I was tired, and that’s why I sat down. But the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
A Big Quiet House
by Heather Forest, illustrated by Susan Greenstein [August House, $15.95]. This well-known Eastern European folktale about a noisy house in which the solution is to bring in the chicken, the goat and the cow, and then take them all out again (teaching that most things in life could be worse, and that misery is relative) was a hit with Isaac and, apparently, his whole family.
Isaac reports that “I love this book and read it 500 times.” The book taught him, he says, that “it’s better that I only have a booboo on my toe, and not on my toe and my finger, but it still hurts.”
Isaac “didn’t know the book was Jewish” and thinks the book is better for boys “because a boy gets pecked by the chicken.”
Amanda’s Perfect Hair
by Linda Millstein, illustrated by Susan Meddaugh [Tambourine, $14.00]. A girl with a huge, huge head of very unruly hair—which everyone adores!—gets sick of the fact that nobody ever notices anything else about her. A “strong, very positive female character who takes action,” explains Isaac’s Mom. And so: Amanda cuts off her hair, which makes her very happy—even though everyone who knows her is dismayed and shocked.
Isaac calls the book “silly,” and “likes the part when she cuts her hair.” This book also made Isaac think of something that he never thought about before: “Mommy’s hair.” He adds that this book is “okay for boys too, because Amanda could have been Aaron.”
written and illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben [Henry Holt, $13.95]. At a Hanukkah party, different kids try to make latkes— but something always goes wrong. The latkes are too soggy, too big or too greasy. Papa’s, though, are perfect, and at the end of the book we get Papa’s recipe.
“A funny book about latkes. My favorite part is the end where they kiss,” says Isaac. He notes that the book is good for very young children because “the kids in the pictures are little.” Isaac’s brother and father liked this book a lot, reports Mom, “because it has a Dad cooking.” Isaac adds that “Daddy and Sam are big cookers.
Seder with the Animals
by Howard Bogart, illustrated by Norman Gorbaty [CCAR Press, $16.95]. A seder involving animals —like beavers building with charoset—with bold, beautiful illustrations along the lines of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Isaac opines that the book is “fun” and that he loved “all the parts of it.” The new thing he learned, he reports, is that “Passover is a holiday.” Mom adds that both Isaac and 7-year-old Sam found the book “enormously appealing because of the great illustrations using animals.”
The Ugly Menorah
written and illustrated by Marisa Moss [Farrar Strauss, $14,00], A girl, trying to offer her recently widowed grandmother moral support, visits the elderly woman and hears the story of Grandma’s modest, “ugly menorah,” Grandma reminisces about how Grandpa himself made the menorah many years ago, and she explains what it has meant to have kept it through the decades of their unfolding life.
‘A sad book,” comments Isaac, which “made Mommy cry.”
ISAAC’S MOTHER, Charity Robey: “Isaac and I had a wonderful time reading the books.
“Isaac felt funny about liking what he considered to be ‘girls’ books.’ For example, he loved Amanda’s Perfect Hair, as indicated by his asking for it over and over. He would say, “This is really a girls’ book. I don’t like it. Let’s read it again,
“I tried not to ‘lead the witness,’ however some things called for my intervention. For example, Isaac doesn’t know his numbers well enough to understand l-to-5 ratings, so I extrapolated from his enthusiasm. Isaac also tended to wait and see what his older 7- year-old brother, Sam, thought about a book, and then he would agree with him. In the end, though, I think these comments fairly reflect Isaac’s opinions,”
Our 7-year-old reviewer: Atara Jaffe
Bim and Bom
by Daniel J, Schwartz, illustrated by Shelly Schonebaum [Kar Ben, $14,95], This sweet book for 4 to 9 year-olds is about a girl named Bim and a boy named Bom. Bim built houses and a house for the rabbi, and Bom bakes at the bakery. When the sun sets, they go to the middle of town and hug, and Bom goes to Bim’s house and they celebrate Shabbat! Bom would shout out, “Bim!” and Bim would shout out, “Bom!” They would run to each other, hug and say, “Shabbat shalom!”
This book taught me to be nice to your friends. It was feminist because the boy cooked and the girl built houses. It was Jewish because they celebrate Shabbat. Bim and Bom loved each other and they could not wait until Shabbat came so they could see each other.
Too Far Away To Touch
by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Catharine Stock [Clarion, $14.95]. This sad, nice book for children age 5 to 10 is about a girl and her uncle. He had cancer, he was sick. Zoe and her uncle still loved each other. He was dying and she was sad. He had AIDS and it was hard for him to take her to places, but he did. I love the beautiful pictures which are watercolors. I read this book on the couch and Mom cried, we just cried.
by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla [Atheneum, $15.00]. This hungry book teaches you how a bakery works. This boy has to bring in something for International Day, so they went to the bakery where his mom and dad work and they went to make the cookies and bread. The mom is Mexican and she cooks empanadas and the dad is Jewish and shows how to make challah and bagels. Then the boy picks the jalapeno bagels because it is like him—a mixture! This book is good for ages 5 to 8.
The Magic Dreidels
by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Katya Krenina [Holiday House, $15.95]. This perfect book for ages 4 to 8 teaches not to steal. A boy named Jacob gets a brass dreidel. His mother says, “Go get a pail of water,” and he takes his dreidel along and drops it by mistake in the well. A goblin comes up and says, “Here’s a different dreidel and it spins out potato latkes,” Jacob goes to Sara and says, “Could you wash this dreidel for me?” and she says “Sure,” but she switches dreidels because she wants to have a magic dreidel, I thought this book was scary because of the pictures so I read it in the morning, but it’s not scary.
The book is mostly pictures which are nice and beautiful. They had a lot of actions like they are really moving. They looked like they were also talking.
Hanna’s Sabbath Dress
by Itzhak Schweiger-Dmi’el, illustrated by Ora Eitan [Simon and Schuster, $15.00]. Morah Leah read this to my class in Hebrew. A girl’s mom made her a white Shabbat dress and she went to the dog and the dog wanted to lick her but she did not want to be licked! Then a cow and the cow also wanted to lick her but no. Then she saw a very old man in the forest with heavy charcoal on his back and she helped him and her dress was dirty. But then the moon talked to her and there’s magic. This gentle book (for ages 4 to 8) has sentences that feel like Shabbat.
What Zeesie Saw on Delancey Street
by Elsa Okon Rael, illustrated by Marjorie Priveman [Simon and Schuster, $16.00]. This excited book, for ages 5 to 8, shows Zeesie at a “package party” that Jews used to have in the old days with a lot of food and music and the people used to give money there to help poor Jews come to America. Zeesie snuck up to the “money room” and gave up her birthday dollar which was very nice of her! And that dollar will go to the poor. Because you go in that room secretly and if you are rich you give dollars and if you are poor you take dollars.
If you look at the drawings of Zeesie you feel like you know her. You know her expressions. She looks like someone I would be friends with.
I love this sentence; “Maybe it was filled with treasure chests and gold coins and jewels and diamonds. Oh, why couldn’t she see inside? Just one little look.” It teaches to give tzedakah and give it secretly! This book is not feminist because only the men could go into the room.
ATARA’S MOTHER, Phyllis Lemer; “Tari preferred to do these book reviews on her own. She very diligently set herself a timetable, and made it clear that she had her own ideas and that this was her own project.
“Tari is a very empathic, exuberant child, with a big personality, and that’s reflected in her star rating system. Her first question, when she got her pile of books, was whether she could give “a million stars.” As you can see, she eventually reined herself in (somewhat). She just couldn’t express enough in words how much she loved certain books. Maybe this is a gender thing.
“As a graphic designer, I want to say that Katya Krenina’s illustrations for The Magic Dreidels are exceptional—bold, powerful and beautiful. Marjorie Priceman’s work in What Zeeise Saw On Delancey Street is also amazing, with a very European style that is lively and warm, and an expressive use of color. Priceman conveys such a strong sense of the characters and of visual details that you can almost understand the whole story without even reading it.”
ATARA’S EDITOR, Susan Schnur, adds: “Tari explained to me that two books were ‘too sad to keep reading.’ They deserve comment, however. In My Pocket by Dorrith M. Sim, illustrated by Gerald Fitzgerald [Harcourt Brace and Co., $16.00] offers spare, quiet autobiographical details of a 7-year-old girl’s Kindertransport experience on boat and train from Nazi Germany to Scotland. The text—scared, simple, and from the heart—ticks like an imagist poem: ‘Then it was time to leave the boat. We wore name tags around our necks. There was a wooden bridge. I didn’t want to move but everyone behind pushed me.’ A dazzling, haunting book (for ages 5 to 8) which demands parental guidance.
”The Feather-Bed Journey by Paula Kurzband Feder, illustrated by Stacey Schuett [Albert Whitman and Co., $15.95] is Grandma’s account—prompted by her grandchildren’s pillow fight—of being rounded up by the Nazis when she was 7, being hidden by a Christian farmer in a secret compartment all alone for two years, and then losing her father and sisters. Again, a frightening book (for ages 6 to 9) intended for parents sensitive enough to monitor their children’s emotional wherewithal. Tari’s response to these two books was just what you hope for from a child: self-confident, she assessed what she can’t do.”
Our 8-year-old reviewer: Edward Badia
The Never-ending Greenness
by Neil Waldman [Morrow, $16]. In this book, a boy has to leave his home, which has a lot of green everywhere. Everyone had to live in a ghetto and the Nazis wouldn’t give them food so they ate grass and weeds. I loved the sentence, “And someday perhaps two golden birds will return to carry me high above the hills so I can peer out of the never-ending greenness and hear the song of a thousand gentle flutes.” This sad book made me think about how hard it is to live through war. It would be good for boys or girls who are old enough to know what war is.
Jews and Sport
by Joseph Hoffman [Pitspopany, $16.95]. This book is a lot of fun. I really like all the hidden pictures—on each page there are about five hidden things. They’re funny, like they say, “Find the Jewish star” and it’s on a sports uniform. A 3-point shot is a hamantash, and they show a basketball dunk in a bucket of water. The book includes basketball, football, boxing, soccer, tennis, the Olympics and the Maccabiah games, and it tells about Jewish athletes like Sandy Koufacs. I can relate to the book because I’m a Jew and I love to play sports—especially soccer. It’s good for boys and girls, 7 to 10.
Crafts For Hanukkah
by Kathy Ross [Millbrook, $15.90]. This interactive book has different activities and projects to do for Hanukkah, like how to make things like a kiddush cup and a menorah. It’s a middle-sized book with 47 pages, and each activity takes up two pages. I did the menorah before at regular school using aluminum foil, shoe boxes, 18 foil cupcake wrappers, cereal box cardboard and blue glitter. I can do these projects without my parents, but it depends on how good you are at figuring things out. I also did a Hanukkah match holder with a small pill bottle that gets wrapped in blue felt (but I used construction paper), with sandpaper to light the match on. Even a two year old would like this book.
My First 100 Hebrew Words
by Howard Bogot [UAHC Press, $11.95]. This is something educational to read which teaches you Hebrew words, with English and Hebrew and pictures. It teaches you words like “Adonai,” “‘Alef-bet,” and “Amen.” It is sort of like a dictionary and goes through the alphabet. It has ”Dayainu,” ”L’Chaim” and “Megillah.” For “El Al” it has a picture of someone walking with a suitcase to the plane, there are lots of Y’s, but there is no X.
For “Yizkor” it shows a memorial candle picture. The last time my mom lit a candle for her mom, the matches kept going out and Mom dropped all these matches in and the fire caught on them and there was a huge flame. Even a very young kid could have a parent read this book to them.
EDWARD’S MOTHER, Diane Cole: “Edward spread all the books out in front of him and then he chose to read and review the ones that most appealed to him. He likes non-fiction. Since it was July, he started by setting aside the out-of-season books—it seemed peculiar to him to read Passover books in July. Some he wanted to ‘save.’ In this category, favorites included The Passover Journey: A Seder Companion by Barbara Diamond Goldin [Puffin Books, $5.99] (which Edward said was ‘about too many things so it’s too hard to review’) which looks like a great resource, and Ten Traditional Jewish Children’s Stories by Gloria Goldreich [Pitspopany], which Edward said would be “good to take to services to read during the High Holidays.” Milk and Honey by Jane Yolen [Putnam, $21.95] also attracted Edward a lot because he plays piano and it’s a holiday compilation (of poems, stories and songs) which includes sheet music.
“Three other books caught his fancy. The Creation by Brian Wildsmith [Millbrook, $19.95] is a beautiful pop-up book that Edward decided would be ‘too hard to review’ because it ‘doesn’t have very many words.’ (He just got his finger stuck in a pop-up fish.) Children in Crisis: The Middle East: Struggle for a Homeland by Keith Greenberg [Blackbirch Press, $14.95] provoked Edward’s asking, ‘What’s the Middle East?’ and when I explained, he answered, ‘Oh, yeah, where there’s all the fighting.’ He’ll probably return to this book when he’s a little older. Finally, there’s A Prayer for the Earth: The Story of Naamah, Noah’s Wife by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso [Jewish Lights, $16.95]. Edward loved the pictures, which look like Milton Avery. The Anne Frank book by Yona Zeldis McDonough had ‘beautiful pictures,’ Edward said, but he’ll read it when he’s older.
“Edward was very proud to be asked to do these book reviews, and he did the whole project himself. I think it helped him really understand, for the first time, what I do. [Diana Cole is a book author who also reviews books for The New York Times, USA Today and elsewhere.]”
Our 10-year old reviewer: Anna Schnur Fishman
Sarah With an H
by Hadley Irwin [McElderry Books, $16.00]. This book is written by Hadley Irwin, which is a coincidence because that’s my best friend Brittany’s last name. You can lose yourself in this story. A girl named Marti is jealous of her friend Sarah because Sarah is pretty, smart and good at basketball. Bui Marti also has mixed feelings about Sarah because Sarah is Jewish. Sarah’s family are the only Jews in this town in Iowa.
This story made me think of my own situation in a small New Jersey town. But Sarah had it worse. Someone painted a swastika on her windshield, and once or twice people made fun of her. Sarah’s family didn’t hide their religion, but they weren’t eager to show it off either. They would travel 45 minutes to go to shul. The townspeople couldn’t understand Judaism as a different religion. The kids said, “Sarah’s family isn’t even going to put up a Christmas tree or decorations!” But then Marti’s mother quits her job because someone says something anti-Semitic. This is a girls’ book (ages 8 to 12), because almost all of the characters are girls.
Brooklyn Doesn’t Rhyme
by Joan W. Bios [Scribner, $12.95]. A Jewish girl named Rosie, born in 1895, is given homework to write about her iminigrant family; the teacher is trying to help students appreciate their lives. Rosie writes about her Tante Ruth, firehouse dogs, library cards. and Momma’s meetings about women getting the vote. The book is a little of everything, like one big spoonful of life, with all the ingredients. For example, people had to buy ice blocks at that time, and you could get five chocolate babies for one cent.
I like when Rosie says, “In Miss Edgecomb’s class we do not write about how Abraham Lincoln walked five miles to school when he was a boy. We write about ourselves. ‘Class, if you wish others to have respect for you, you must first respect yourselves. Writing will help you learn that.'” For girls, ages 8 to 12.
by David Wisneiwski [Clarion Books, $16.95]. A giant clay man. Golem, came to life 400 years ago and saved the Jews from the Blood Lie. He came to life through zirufim, magic spells from Kabala, and had the word “Emet,” “Truth,” engraved on his forehead. The book feels holy in some parts, and eerie and sad in some parts. At the end it was semi-sad, but then it’s mystical because the Golem could come to life once more if things get bad for the Jews.
“The rabbi lashed out with his staff, erasing the first letter— aleph—from the word on Golem’s forehead. At this, Emet—Truth—became Met. Death.” I really like the powerful pictures. “‘Please!’ Golem cried. ‘Please let me live! I did all that you asked of me! Life is so . . . precious . . . to me!'” You can imagine Golem wanting to experience the setting sun. The rabbi is being mean and you’re feeling sad for Golem.
This book, for 7 to 10 year olds, made me think about what life means besides traffic and computers. Golem, when he’s not doing his mission, remembers to pay attention to the smaller things that God has created. It made me feel more grateful. I went out that night and saw the sunset and thought it was so pretty.
by Carolyn Meyer [Harcourt Brace, $12.001. An Orthodox Jewish boy, Isaac, is a house-to-house peddler with his father in an Amish community. Their wagon overturns during a storm and their horse hurts his foreleg. Isaac ends up in an Amish farm family’s house for two weeks. He helps the Amish kids and gets involved with Gideon, who is secretly planning to run away.
The new thing this book made me think about is the differences and likenesses of people from two religions. I’m going to remember for a long time the scene of Isaac tiding to help his horse Goldie. Isaac hears Goldie whinnying and he thinks she’s upset. Even though Isaac can’t make it the whole way to the bam (because he is still very sick from the accident), he crawls for as far as he can make it in the dark. This sad book is for girls, ages 10 to 13, because they can relate to Annie, the Amish girl.
I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust
by Livia Bitton-Jackson [Simon and Schuster, $17.00]. A 13-year-old girl leads a normal life and all of a sudden she has to get used to all the changes of the Holocaust—a ghetto, another ghetto, Auschwitz, then Augsberg, Muhldorf and other camps. She goes on cattle cars and is separated from her father, then her brother. The part I’ll remember for a long time is when they’re evacuated from the camps on cattle cars. They line them up to get soup but it was just a trick and they shot them. They were half-starved, parched, wounded and miserable. It was very scary. Half of them were dead or dying.
This isn’t really a Jewish book because it’s not about Shabbos and things like that. But after deaths, they sat shiva.
This book is sad, serious and scary. It’s very scary. I know it wouldn’t happen to me, but if I thought it could happen to me, it would be very scary. This book would be good for both boys and girls, but they should be a lot older than me. Let’s say 12 and over. It’s a story, but you wouldn’t say it’s an interesting story. It’s sad, horrible.
Girls Speak Out: Finding Your True Self
by Andrea Johnston [Scholastic Press, $17.95]. This book, for girls 9 to maybe 14 or 15, isn’t Jewish; it’s feminist. It is putting together all the different things about being a girl, like feminism, sexism and changing the world. It also goes off into sexual harassment. I’ll remember two stories, “Going Into the Woods” by Andrea Johnston and “The Green Stone” by Alice Walker. They weren’t exactly spiritual, but just before that.
This book is definitely for girls. It practically doesn’t even mention boys, unless a man said something wrong or a boy sexually harassed a girl. Most of the stuff I already knew, like Sojourner Truth and different Goddesses, but I learned more about it.
by Carol Matas [Simon & Schuster, $15.00]. Fifteen-year-old Ruth has survived the Holocaust and is now in Palestine and she is traumatized but she has to fight again. The British dig up her beloved garden, looking for guns. You learn a lot about what happened right before Israel. I’m going to remember for a long time when Ruth stands there with her roses and says, “I look at my garden and wonder if we will end up like that in the weeks and months to come—broken, crushed. After all, there we, millions of Arabs and so few of us.”
This sad, scary book helped me learn about what happened to people after the Holocaust. Everything didn’t just magically become okay—they still remembered. It wasn’t the end of the Holocaust for them. They had to accept things again. They couldn’t just sit and scream, even though they deserved it. They had to go on.
This book is good for boys and girls age 11 and up. You have to try not to digest the horrible scary parts about the Holocaust. Also, in the end, it doesn’t tell you what happens to Ruth’s boyfriend who stepped on a mine, whether he recovered or if they got married.
A Treasury of Jewish Stories
chosen by Adele Geras [Kingfisher, $5.95], and
The Wonder Child & Other Jewish Fairy Tales
selected and retold by Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush [Harper Collins, $16.95]. These books are similar so I am reviewing them together.
Treasury is 15 good stories about everything from Elijah to kibbutz life to Chelm. Authors are famous: I. B. Singer, Barbara Diamond Goldin, Marilyn Hirsh and 12 others. A sentence I really like is, “Fat people can’t help being fat. That’s what I believe. Not everyone agrees with me, but I’ve proved it [from “Batata” by Lynne Reid Banks].” In “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,” I thought about how even the kids in the Holocaust had to laugh off the smaller things that they lost that were important to them, like stuffed animals. (For girls and boys, 9-13).
The Wonder Child is for younger boys and girls, ages 6 to 11. It is eight stories of real Jewish folklore from Morocco, Libya and Eastern Europe. The stories are magical fairy tales, like Cinderella—a lot of pumpkins into coaches, but Jewish. There are demons, magic rings, sprites and fantastical supernatural werewolves. And wonderful pictures.
by Rahel Musleah and Rabbi Michael Klayman [Jewish Lights, $18.95], and
The Uninvited Guest
by Nina Jaffe [Scholastic, $16.95], and
The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays
by Malka Drucker [Little, Brown, $21.95].
I’m putting these three books together because they all have stories, holiday by holiday. They’re all for 7 to 11 year olds. If I had to get only one of these books, I would get all three.
Sharing Blessings isn’t one of those books that drones on and on about the Jewish holidays. It tells about one family, and every holiday in their household. It gives you: a) just plain old info about holidays; b) telling a good story; c) ideas about how you can make the holiday fun, or, if it’s not a happy holiday, they give the meaning. Shul can be torture. While the rabbi is boring you, you can be thinking in your own head, ‘God stopped making the world on this day, and that’s why we’re resting.’ This book gives you real things to think about.
The Uninvited Guest is each holiday with a little introduction about what it is, and then a neat story that only has a small part where you’re actually learning about the holiday. This book is mostly funny, but other parts are just a good book. The story I particularly loved was “The Two Brothers” where a rich brother tells his poor brother to go to Azazel, which means hell, but the poor brother goes off to look for it. Of the three books, this one has the best stories and beautiful pictures.
The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays is the fattest book and has more stories and extras—like recipes, poems, music, arts and crafts projects and neat little pieces of info: like it’s a mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur because the rebbes said we don’t know whether fasting or feasting brings the messiah, so we need to do both. There’s a ”Chad Gadya” song with animal noises that’s like “Old McDonald,” and good ideas for Yom HaShoa like putting six yellow tulips in a vase in honor of all the good Dutch people.
ANNA’S UNCLE, Ron Schnur: “Anna took her book reviews very seriously. She tended to focus mostly on historical details (like period transportation, what people ate, etc.), and on the emotional state of the characters, their choices, and whether in her own life she’d ever gone through anything similar She didn’t ask questions like “Who was the President?” or “What year was the War?”
“She read so many books that she got overwhelmed trying to write up the reviews. Also, her understanding of concepts outruns her verbal abilities. We settled on her talking, and me prompting and writing. Over time, she figured out “formulae”—like how to give a context, how to use examples, and how to crib from the flap copy. By the end, she’d learned a lot about how to write book reviews.
“It was really fun working with her. It was a good experience for me to have to listen to her so carefully.”