Purim Books

I know it doesn’t feel like Purim is around the corner, but as I’m frequently late on these things, and I’m sending in book recommendations to the awesome www.ChallahCrumbs.com, I’m getting these picks in early.

There are some surprisingly excellent choices for stories that take place during Purim, and even some lovely retellings of the Purim story (which let’s be honest, isn’t really so appropriate for children when you think about it). Here are some of my favorites:

Cakes and Miracles is one of my favorite of the new crop of Purim books this year. It’s technically not new, but has been rereleased after a long stretch of being out of print, and with brand-new fantastic illustrations from Jaime Zollars. Goldin weaves the sweet, touching story of Hershel, a young boy living with him mother in a shtetl in the old country. But what makes this story different than the usual shtelt fare, is that Hershel is blind. His mother is poor and is trying to make hamentashen for Purim to sell in the market. Hershel wants to help but his mother refuses — she needs the dough to make as many hamentaschen as possible and how could Hershel help when he can’t see? And while it’s true that Hershel doesn’t wind up using the dough to make hamentaschen, what he ends up creating is a magical and beautiful Purim surprise. Great for children 5-9 years old.

Another wonderful new rerelease is Purim Play by Roni Schotter (with the fantastic “old” illustrations of Marylin Hafner). Purim Play is the story of Frannie and the Purim play that she is trying to create with her brother and cousins. When her cousins fall in and can’t come, Frannie all but gives up on the play. Until, reluctantly, she accepts the help of her neighbor Mrs. Teplitzky, who proves to be a formidable Haman and a wonderful teacher. In addition to be a being a great story, I love that this is Judaism celebrated in the home, and most of all that it comes with a great script for creating a Purim Play. Great for children 7-11 years old.

Raisel’s Riddle by Erica Silverman is not new, but it can’t be missed when you are looking for great Purim stories. A Jewish retelling of the Cinderella story, this story highlights Raisel’s kindness and intelligence over the good looks that typically win Cinderalla favor. A perfect Purim fairytale.


This year also marks the release of two new retellings of the Purim story. Eric Kimmel’s The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale is a faithful and attractive retelling of the Purim story. It’s not the preschool version of the story (where Haman just wants the Jews to leave) but it’s a great version for children 6 and up. Tilda Balsley’s The Queen Who Saved Her People also sticks pretty close to the “real story” but because it’s presented as a reader’s theatre play (much like her Exodus story, Let My People Go), it reads slightly more comically and irreverently. Also good for children 6 and up and lovely for creating theater at home, at school or anywhere.

There are unfortunately some lovely creative retellings of the Purim story that are still out of print. Three of my favorites include:

Mordicai Gerstein’s Queen Esther the Morning Star, complete with Gerstein’s incredible artwork and the addition of some interesting midrashim (rabbinic exegetical stories) to fill out the supernatural elements of the story.

Rita Golden Gelman’s Queen Esther Saves Her People is also a lovely retelling, with fairytale aspects that is sure to resonate for children who like those types of books (are there children who don’t?).

Finally, for children better suited for longer and denser picture books, Esther’s Story by Diane Wolkstein is incredible. This time the story is told entirely through the eyes of young Esther, a winner for kids who want to delve deeper.

Happy reading!

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The Baby Goes Beep

My five year old is one of the luckiest kids in the world I think. Every night since he was a tiny infant, he’s had stories before bed and then either Josh or I recite his two favorite stories: The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Every night. Since he was a baby. He’s 5 and a half now. That’s a lot of “the baby goes beep; the baby goes beep beep; the baby goes beep beep beep beep/ The baby goes boom; the baby goes boom boom” etc. etc. I think you can probably do Goodnight Moon from memory too, so no need for me to write it out.

The Baby Goes BeepI was really sad when The Baby Goes Beep went out of print — it was the perfect baby present and it felt a little awkward to buy new moms a used copy. Luckily, Albert Whitman just brought it back into print as a board book (perfect!). Truly, it’s one of the best baby books and clearly a favorite in our house. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

What are your favorite baby books?

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Why I love children’s books & Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder

I love children’s books. I really, really love them. Frequently, I find that I prefer young adult novels and middle-grade novels far more than adult novels. Very frequently.

I’ve always loved children’s books. I think my problem was that I never really figured out the transition to adult books. Back when I was the proper age to be reading kids’ books, I would sit at the bookstore, often for an hour or so (luckily I had a very understanding dad and a very similar sister) and I would go one by one through the children’s books on the three or four bookcases reserved for books for my age group. That’s how I’d find the books I wanted to read — by going one by one and reading the back and examining the cover. When I became that awful age when people tell you the adult section is more your speed, I was lost. I couldn’t go through all the adult books one by one to figure out what I wanted to read. And so I didn’t know how to find good books. I’d find an author or two that worked for me and read all I can, but then I was lost again. And honestly, I actually stopped reading for a while because I just couldn’t figure it out.

Eventually I got a little better. I started going to the Housing Works Bookstore in NYC where I could go through the 2 bookcases dedicated to review copies. It wasn’t that I wanted to read the newest releases, it was that I could finally go back to my childhood where I could just drop my stuff at the bottom of the bookcase and look through the books one by one.

Now though, I’m letting go of the embarrassment and I’m ready to admit that I just love children’s books and even though I’m much older than (some) authors intend to write for, I am happiest there.

Which brings me to Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder. Because while I readily admit my love for children’s books to some friends, some of the time, this is a book that reminds me that it’s OK to yell from the top of my very snowy roof how much I love children’s books. Because my friends, this book rocks. It is beautifully, so beautifully, written. I know there are many complicated books out there about miserable people who lead miserable lives in miserable third world countries and they get many, many prizes. But in my opinion, Any Which Wall is a perfect book, and far surpasses all those unhappy books. It’s sweet and kind and really lovely.

Officially, here’s the description:

Four kids, a mysterious wall, and a good helping of common magic!

If you had a magic wall that could take you to any place and any time, where would you go? Would you want to visit castles and desert islands? Would you want to meet famous wizards, terrible pirates, beautiful queens, and dastardly outlaws? If so, then you are just like Henry and Emma, and Roy and Susan—and you will probably like this story a lot. In fact, you might even wish something similar would happen to you!

But truthfully, it’s about so much more than that. It’s about a 12-year-old girl whose best friend moves away, and thinks she’s too cool and old for unicorns and kindness. It’s about interesting kids who wish interesting things. It’s about being brave and being scared and the possibility that magic does really exist. And in the absolutely magical chapter I just read to Jonah tonight, it’s about remembering that while just having fun is not usually the subject of children’s book chapters (because nobody was being chased and there was no danger), having fun is worth mentioning. Listen to this:

No, nothing bad happened at all. It was a fun afternoon and free of all disaster, and it didn’t affect anything that happened afterward, not even a little. In fact, I wouldn’t bother to include this particular adventure in the book since it doesn’t matter much to the story.

Except that it does. Because fun does matter. It matters a lot.

Laurel, thank you so much for writing this exquisite book. Not just because I got to read it (twice now) and recommend it to as many people as I can. But because for the last three weeks, Jonah and I have snuggled together and read it every night, and I’ve been able to share it with him.

My recommendation? Buy it in hardcover. Buy a couple of copies — enough to read it out loud to 6-9 year olds; and have 8-10 year olds read it on their own.

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Jews and Christmas

I’m thinking a lot about Christmas these days. There are beautiful lights everywhere, friends have their trees up and it has been a long, long time since Hanukkah for my kids. They haven’t said anything yet, but I’m waiting…

So my first thought is to turn to books. I’m looking for books for children that feature Jews being Jewish at Christmas time — and preferably not Jews doing Hanukkah while others do Christmas since that’s not the case this year. Here’s my top choices:

The Trees of the Dancing GoatsThe Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. This kind of breaks the rule of not including books about Hanukkah, but I’d argue that the book really isn’t about Hanukkah at all. Here’s the book description:

Trisha loves the eight days of Hanukkah, when her mother stays home from work, her Babushka makes delicious potato latkes, and her Grampa carves wonderful animals out of wood as gifts for Trisha and her brother. In the middle of her family’s preparation for the festival of lights, Trisha visits her closest neighbors, expecting to find them decorating their house for Christmas. Instead they are all bedridden with scarlet fever. Trisha’s family is one of the few who has been spared from the epidemic. It is difficult for them to enjoy their Hanukkah feast when they know that their neighbors won’t be able to celebrate their holiday. Then Grampa has an inspiration: they will cut down trees, decorate them, and secretly deliver them to the neighbors, “But what can we decorate them with?” Babushka asks. Although it is a sacrifice, Trisha realizes that Grampa’s carved animals are the perfect answer. Soon her living room is filled with trees — but that is only the first miracle of many during an incredible holiday season.

What I really like about this book is that it is absent the longing of Christmas and really features two people living side by side, practicing their own religions, and helping each other when they need it.

Elijah's Angel

Elijah’s Angel by Michael Rosen. Again, this does have Hanukkah, probably more importantly placed than the Polacco suggestion, but I really like it. The Amazon review:

A child’s vision of religious tolerance is exquisitely played out in this story about an elderly Christian barber and a Jewish child who befriends him. As a hobby, the African American barber makes elaborate woodcarvings–many of which refer to events or characters in the Bible. Michael, a 9-year-old Jewish boy, often visits the barbershop just to admire old Elijah’s carvings, especially that of Noah’s Ark–a story that belongs to Jewish as well as Christian teachings. One day when Hanukkah and Christmas coincidentally overlap, Elijah gives Michael a special gift, a carved guardian angel. Immediately Michael is filled with a jumble of feelings–gratitude for such a beautiful gift, concern that his parents might disapprove, and an even greater fear that God may frown upon a Christmas angel, “a graven image,” in Michael’s home. The thick sweeps of paint, the heavy uses of wood-tones, and primitive images make the settings and characters look as though Elijah carved them himself. When Michael finally reveals the carved angel to his parents, they help the young boy understand how expressions of friendship, love, and protection can be carried into any home, regardless of the household’s religion.

Again, lovely story about friendship and people being happy with who they are.

A Chanukah Noel

Another new book out this season is the gorgeous A Chanukah Noel by Sharon Jennings. This one takes the very realistic plot of a Jewish child who wants to celebrate Christmas. The Booklist review:

Based on a true incident, this historical picture book is about Charlotte, who has moved to a small town in France. Charlotte feels left out, especially at Christmastime, not only because she’s American but also because she’s Jewish. At least Charlotte can participate in the school holiday activities, but during the grab-bag pull, she realizes that classmate Colette Levert is too poor to purchase a present for the exchange. This gives Charlotte an idea. Perhaps she can bring Christmas to Colette’s family. On Christmas Eve, Charlotte’s family carries a Christmas tree, decorations, food, and gifts to the Leverts. In return, the Leverts ask Charlotte’s family to stay and share their holiday feast and “the joy of Christmas and Chanukah.”The Christmas Menorahs

 And, since we have a good number of Jews help save Christmas stories, here’s a corollary. The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn. The Boolist review:

Based on a true incident that occurred in Billings, Montana, this story begins when a rock is thrown through a boy’s bedroom window in which a menorah is displayed. The boy, Isaac, is frightened and unsure whether he wants to put the menorah back. His parents call the police, and his mother goes on television and to a meeting to talk about hate crimes in the community. Inspired by stories of the Danish people helping their Jewish neighbors during World War II, the people of Billings put menorahs in their windows to take a stand against bigotry. When a schoolmate supports Isaac, he takes his own stand by returning the menorah to its place. Although the plot seems a little stilted at times, Cohn deals with the issues in a way children can readily understand.

Christmas Tapestry

Finally, a book that I’m not sure how to categorize, except to say that it’s a weeper. The Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco is not about Hanukkah or being Jewish at all. It’s really just a Christmas story, but with a really interesting Jewish link. From Booklist:

Polacco is a master at intergenerational, interfaith stories that bring comfort and joy, and this one based on homilies she had heard widely separated in time and place is no exception. Jonathan must adjust when his preacher father moves the family to Detroit. After lots of work, the church is almost ready for Christmas, but then ice damage gouges a hole in a church wall. Father and son find a beautifully embroidered hanging and buy it with the last of their money; as they wait in the snow for the bus, an old woman offers them tea from her thermos. When they finally get to the parsonage, she is astonished to find the tapestry is one she had made as a chuppah for her wedding in Germany, before she was separated from her new husband who was lost in the war. The plasterer, who comes to fix the hole, also recognizes the hanging, and delighted audiences will soon figure out his identity. Christian and Jewish holiday celebrations intermingle with the message that nothing in the universe is random. The tender colors and gestures in the illustrations echo the text to make a satisfying whole.

The story is beautiful and touching and likely missed by many Jews because of the overt Christmas message of the description. It’s really quite incredible.

Nate the GreatAnd a bonus. If your kids really want the Christmas book, offer them Nate the Great and the Crunchy Christmas by Marjorie Wienman Shermat. Tuns out that everyone’s favorite mystery solving little boy doesn’t celebrate Christmas either. It’s a great surprise for kids, and a wonderful “aha” moment. Jewish characters aren’t just in Jewish books. Sometimes they turn up in the least likely place…

Last thought: Lisa Silverman, a fantastic Jewish librarian and connoisseur of Jewish children’s book writes about A Chanukkah Noel and a new book (that I haven’t seen so didn’t include in this round up because I haven’t read it) called Jackie’s Gift: A True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Jackie Robinson, written by Jackie’s daughter, Sharon Robinson. While I disagree with her Hanukkah book suggestions, I think the article itself is great.

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Aliya Stories

So, the other day’s post about great immigration stories led me to think about some of my favorite stories about immigrating to Israel instead of America. There aren’t as many of them, but they are great.

First RainFirst Rain by Charlotte Herman is lovely. Abby and her parents have decided to move to Israel from North America, and they are really happy with their decision, it’s hard to leave behind Abby’s grandmother. First Rain tells the story of the correspondence between grandmother and grandchild as Abby learns more and more about her new home. What’s nice is that in addition to learning more, Abby teaches her grandmother all about Israel, including some Hebrew words. One of the things that Abby learns about Israel is how everyone waits for the first rain of the year after the long hot summer, much like she used to wait for the first snow. Guess who arrives for a visit on the same day that Abby hears the sounds of rain on the roof? I’ll admit, there’s something sad about this book — the grandmother sure does look unhappy to see Abby and her folks move away. But, it’s a lovely intergenerational story, and very applicable to many long distance grandparents, even if their grandchildren don’t live in Israel. (Great for 5-7 year olds.)

Yuvi's Candy TreeYuvi’s Candy Tree by Lesley Simpson is a fantastic new book. But it won’t be out until March 2011 (sorry!). The story of Yuvi’s trip from Ethiopia to Israel is captured in beautifully poetic language and simple artwork. The story is a little scary (appropriately), but does a great job of conveying the long, hard trip to Israel for many Ethiopian Jews. You can always pre-order… (I think it’ll work best for 7-10 year olds.)

Finally, All the Lights in the Night by Arthur Levine is a more typical “escape from Russia” story, except for instead of escaping to America, the two brothers are heading to Palestine. Israel doesn’t play heavily in the story, but it’s a nice Hanukkah story, and includes a slightly different destination than we usually see in these books. (Good for 8 & 9  year olds.)

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Encyclopedia Brown

Encyclopedia BrownRemember Encyclopedia Brown? I loved the series as a kid, and I have to say that I even love it now as an adult. I remember trying desperately to figure out the mysteries, and never being able to do it. One great thing about getting older is that finally as an adult, I can now figure them out! Now as I listen to them, I hear the out-of-place detail, I can figure out the type of clue that Encyclopedia looks for.

I don’t need to describe the series by Daniel J. Sobel because I’m sure you know them well. They’ve aged pretty well — I think I’m the only one who notices how many mysteries depend on not having had a cell phone or the fact that there’s no internet… There’s a little colorful ethnic stereotyping going on, so you just need to watch out for that.

My editionMy seven-year old has been reading my old copies, and then we’ve been listening to the stories in the car. Just good clean stories — the kind that still makes me smile. Do you remember any Encyclopedia Brown mysteries from when you were a kid?

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This Totally Bites

I can’t believe I hadn’t blogged about this before (OK, so it’s probably because it’s been a little while since I last blogged).

This Totally Bites

This Totally Bites by Ruth Ames ROCKS. Emma-Rose Paley is a fantastic heroine who looks a little more vampire-ish than the rest of her family. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that her great-Aunt Margo is coming for a visit from Romania and looks a lot like Emma-Rose. And for the fact that Great-Aunt Margo is clearly up to something other-worldly. Could it be that Emma-Rose’s aversion to garlic and sunshine are more than just a question of taste?

Clearly, This Totally Bites is playing off the current vampire craze, setting this story up for the 8-12 crowd who are a little young for Twilight. But it’s way more than that. The storytelling here is way beyond what you get in most young chapter books — it really moves and the plot builds and the characters are remarkably developed. I’ve given this to a few reluctant readers who plowed through it and demanded more! What I really like about the story though is the ending, which I won’t give away. I expected that she couldn’t be a vampire. Or maybe Ames would make her a vampire? But the ending is much more inventive than I could have predicted.

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Immigration Stories

OK, let’s not talk about  how long it’s been. The point is, I’m writing again, right?

So, I’m inspired by my 2nd grader who is studying immigration, but probably more so by his wonderful teacher and the creative ways she is introducing this topic to her class. As I looked at her book box of immigration stories for the kids, I was surprised by how few Jewish titles she had. Now, some were in the hands of happy children, but it did make me think, what are the best Jewish immigration picture books? So, here’s the list:

Best for the Ellis Island experience:

The Memory CoatThe Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff is probably my favorite for the Ellis Island experience. Rachel and her cousin Grisha have made it to Ellis Island, along with Rachel’s family. While horsing around (see, kids in the olden days did that too!), Rachel knocks into Grisha and causes his eye to get scratched. Wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact that a damaged eye earns Grisha the scary white chalk mark on his coat, the sign that he won’t be admitted to the United States and will have to go back home. Luckily, Rachel is a plucky heroine who saves the day with some quick thinking. Great for 7-9 year olds.

Best for younger kids:

Mendel's AccordionI’m sure I’ve written about Mendel’s Accordion by Heidi Smith Hyde elsewhere. Beautifully illustrated, it tells the story of Mendel from Melnitze who is a Klezmer player. When things get bad, Mendel leaves Melnitze with old his accordion. Everywhere he goes, Mendel makes friends and makes music. Mendel eventually has children in New York, and it’s his grandson Sam who finds his accordion one day and learns to play again. A simple (no Cossacks!) immigration story, with a lovely intergenerational feel, not to mention the accordion! For fans of Mendel’s Accordion, there is now Feivel’s Flying Horses by the same author and illustrator team. This time taking place at Coney Island, it’s a lovely quiet choice, though some will see sadness in the fact that Feivel has to go to America without his wife and children. Luckily, at the end of the story they are reunited! (Mendel’s Accordion is great for 4-6 year olds; Feivel is better for 6 & 7s.)

Best for older readers:

When Jessie Came Across the SeaWhen Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest is beautiful and really quite perfect. Jessie is chosen to come to America by the rabbi of her small village. Sadly, it means leaving her beloved grandmother. Luckily, in addition to settling in with her extended family and proving herself to be a great lace maker, she falls in love with Lou. She waits until finally she has enough money to send for her grandmother, before agreeing to marry Lou. Sigh. (great for 7-9 year olds)

Best Link to the Statue of Liberty:

Naming LibertyOK, this is a made up category, clearly. But I did want to talk about Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen. This book parallels the story of French artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s creation of the Statue of Liberty, with the story of a Jewish family immigrating to America. The story goes back and forth between the two “stories,” finally coming together nicely at exactly the point when you’d expect them to come together. Throughout the story of the family though, Gitl, the young girl, is concern about finding the right American name. What does she decide on? Liberty! (But you can call her Libby.)  (Good for older readers 8-10 years old.)

Next post will be dedicated to all the great immigration stories I forgot to mention…

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Clever Rachel by Debby Waldman

Clever RachelOh dear. I just got linked to by the delightful folks at OyBaby! and I’m feeling the pressure to replace the Rosh Hashanah page with something new. Sigh.

So, great new book? Debby Waldman’s Clever Rachel. Same author and illustrator (the fantastic Cindy Revell) as A Sack Full of Feathers means same great art, text and town. This time, the story is based on the old story of the innkeeper’s clever daughter but more child-friendly. Here’s the book description:

Jacob was stunned. Rachel had devoured his best riddles the way his father’s customers devoured fresh rugelach. He was about to say so when he was distracted by a loud noise at the inn’s door. Standing in the entry was a young woman, who might have been beautiful had she not looked so distraught.
“I am Miriam,” she said. “I hear there is a clever child at this inn. One who is good at solving riddles.”
“I am happy to help you,” Rachel said, but Jacob’s voice was louder.
“My name is Jacob,” he announced, stepping in front of Rachel.
“But I’m the one you’re looking for,” Rachel protested.

In this retelling of a jewish folktale, Jacob tries to stump Rachel with his best riddles but fails repeatedly. When a young woman in need of help presents Rachel and Jacob with the trickiest riddles of all, they discover the only way to solve them is to work together.

One of my favorite things about this book? The list of riddles at the back of the book. Another favorite? I just love smart girls at the center of books.

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Even Higher by Eric Kimmel

This year brought a great new addition to Rosh Hashanah books: a new version of the Even Higher story. Last year I blogged about liking but not loving the version that was out there. The illustrations just didn’t do it for me.

Even Higher

Even Higher

This year, there’s a new Even Higher — this time written by Eric Kimmel and illustrated with the fantastic illustrations of Jill Weber. It’s a slightly different telling (and includes a dancing grandmother, a drinking song and a little more theology). Basically, borrowing and editing from last year’s post:

Based on a story by the great I.L. Peretz, It’s about a couple of boys skeptic who see the rabbi disappear the day before Rosh Hashanah every year. This year, they’ve he decides that one of the boys should to follow him to prove that he doesn’t go up to heaven to talk with God. When Reuven the skeptic sees him disguise himself as a woodcutter and bring wood for a bedridden widow, he realizes that one’s actions can actually bring you ”even higher” than heaven.

Even Higher is a wonderful story for Rosh Hashanah about the power of human actions and can be a fantastic conversation starter about the value of Tzedakah (charity). Rarely do we get such a wonderful portrait of charity being given without hope of recognition.

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The Secret Shofar of Barcelona

A lovely new addition to the world of Rosh Hashanah books is The Secret Shofar of Barcelonaby Jacqueline Dembar Greene (yes, author of the new Jewish American Girl Doll series).

The Secret Shofar of Barcelona

The Secret Shofar of Barcelona

Set during the late 16th century, The Secret Shofar of Barcelona tells the story of Don Fernando Aguilar, the conductor of the Royal Orchestra of Barcelona. A converso, Don Fernando has written a piece of music for the Duke that is set to debut on the night of Rosh Hashanah and plans to have a Rosh Hashanah dinner with other Jewish families on open night, disguised as a celebratory dinner for opening night.

His son Rafael however, has a better idea — an idea that will allow the Jews of Barcelona to hear the shofar in plain sight. But, as you might expect, it’s a dangerous plan, and one that a young boy might be the only person brave enough to do.

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Rosh Hashanah — A New Start

So, I fell off the blogging wagon. But, we’re coming up on a new year so instead of feeling lousy, I’m going to jump back in with a delightful new Rosh Hashanah title that I know you will enjoy.

Today Is The Birthday of the World

Today Is The Birthday of the World

Today Is The Birthday of the World by Linda Heller is the type of book that is just so nice to hold in your hand. It’s just all round dreamy — from the delightful illustrations to even the slightly heavier paper. The words are soft and the story so easy to read — it reminds me of Mem Fox’s Time For Bed in the way that it just flows so nicely. It’s a nice quiet story perfect for a hushed voice.

Sigh. It’s a nice book to get me back in the mood for blogging.

Want some other Rosh Hashanah options? Check out last year’s ideas.

Just a quick side note: the theme of this book is what does it mean to be the best that you can be. While the book is a great read for young kids, it will certainly prompt older kids into an interesting discussion of the values of Rosh Hashanah: what does it mean to be the best that you can be?

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Alef Bet by Michelle Edwards



DreamyReads is heading to Israel! For two weeks. With the two little readers (and the husband). On a plane. For many hours. With a stopover. Can you tell I’m excited/ totally freaked out?

To focus on the excited part, I want to give a big shout out to one of my favorite picture books, Michelle Edwards’ Alef Bet. This book, which has been out of print for a great many years too many, is a fantastic Hebrew alphabet book. And it has just been republished and is back to being available! Hurray for New-South Books!

Why is it so fabulous? Because, like all of Michelle Edwards’ books, it is fabulously illustrated with quirky people who look much more like people I know than most books. And, because one of the kids in the book happens to be in a wheelchair. And because you can learn a whole bunch of interesting Hebrew words (the word of the Hebrew letter Alef is ahm-BAHT-yah which means bathtub and the word for Gimmel is gar-BAH-yimwhich means socks). And, most importantly, this isn’t just an alphabet book — Michelle Edwards gives you all sorts of information about the family that is pictured in the book so you can actually talk to your children about what is happening in each picture. It’s actually quite cool.

So, I’m going to take out my old copy of the book, and the re-published copy of the book, and the kids and I are going to pour over the pictures, learn some funky words and prepare for an overnight flight. Oh dear. Wish us luck!

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Great Non-Passover Passover Boks

While this post can give you all the traditional Passover books you need (traditional means they actually refer to Passover) what about books that can give your children a window into the Passover experience without mentioning the words Passover, Exodus, Moses or even Jews?

The Passover Haggadah tells us that:

In every generation a person must see themselves as though they personally came out of Egypt. (Mishnah Pesachim 10:5, also in the traditional Haggadah)

Personally, I feel like the Passover Haggadah is a bit lacking in helping us get to that point. Frankly, even the Exodus story is hard to get our heads around, never mind the heads of young children. It took place so long ago and there’s all this magic (which makes it hard to really believe it happened).

However, if we take the central components of the Passover story (slavery, leaving home, wandering and reaching a new homeland), we might be able to put something together that actually helps our children understand the Exodus. So, here’s the book guide. You certainly don’t need all the books, but see what you can find for each category.

Understanding slavery

Understanding the Escape

Understanding the Wandering

Understanding the Arriving

  • The Memory Coat written by Elvira Woodruff and illustrated by Michael Dooling

Questions to think about with your child/ren

  • What is it like to be a slave?
  • What is it like to leave slavery?
  • What is it like to arrive in a new home?
  • How different is Egypt in Biblical times from any of these times?
  • How can we make a difference?

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Passover Books!

OK, so I think this isn’t too last minute to be useful. Depending on what you are looking for, there are some really nice Passover books out there. So here, in a nutshell (kosher for Passover nuts only please), is the round up of titles to consider:

If you are looking for a great book to really get into the story of Passover, check out:



Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim by Deborah Bodin Cohen. Great for the 6 and up set, this is the story of Nachshon, the Biblical character who is said to be the one to first step into the sea (before it split). Didn’t help (according to Cohen, not the Bible) that he was afraid of water. But freedom means living up to your fears… Beautifully illustrated and a great book to help you discuss freedom and the Exodus story. New this year!

Yankee at the Seder

Yankee at the Seder

Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber. Great book. Really, really great book. It’s the end of the Civil War and a Yankee Soldier happens upon a Southern child eating matzah outside. Of course, the family invites him for seder. There’s nothing boring or didactic about this story — it’s just great. Pictures are lovely, writing is lovely. Highly recommended and new this year!

Miriam’s Cup by Fran Manushkin. Better for girls, ages 6 and up. This book really delves into the Biblical narrative, from the point of view of Miriam, Moses’ sister. The illustrations are stunning.

If you are looking for something that can be used at your seder, check out:

Let My People Go!

Let My People Go!

Let My People Go! by Tilda Balsley. A play about the plagues (oy vey), it’s actually a lot of fun. Last year, I got our whole seder table participating, with my (then) 5 year old playing Moses. There’s lots of words for the narrator to say and the other parts are pretty easy to remember (even for a 5 year old).

Wonders and Miracles

Wonders and Miracles

Wonders and Miracles by Eric Kimmel. A fantastic seder companion filled with interesting information and incredible photographs and illustrations, it really explains each part of the seder. It’s perfect for kids who like to know things, as well as adults. Highly recommended, even though it’s non-fiction.

If you are looking for some books that are just plain fun, check out:

Only Nine Chairs by Deborah Uchill Miller. What happens when 19 guests are expected but there’s only 9 chairs? It’s pretty funny what they come up with. The illustrations feel dated, but the book is hilarious. Great for 2-4 year olds.



Passover! by Roni Schotter. Nice and light Passover experience for very young children (ages 1-3).

Passover Magic by Roni Schotter. This is sadly out of print, but if you can find it, it’s really great. A lovely story about a young girl during her family’s celebration of Passover — it’s pretty much a perfect book. Ages 4-7.

No Matzoh For Me!

No Matzoh For Me!

Pearl’s Passover by Jane Breskin Zalben. A great collection of stories and activities that will last kids through all seven/eight days of Passover. Better for girls, and kids ages 5 to 7.

No Matzoh for Me! by Nancy Krulik. It’s Passover time and you are cast in your Hebrew school play as the Matzah? Not the Pharoh, not even a plague or Moses but Matzah?? Great for kids 5 to 7.

If you are looking for a chapter book, check out:

Penina Levine

Penina Levine

Penina Levine is a Hard-boiled Egg by Rebecca O’Connell. A modern day Jewish family with a very modern day Jewish girl at the center. Penina is a great heroine, and luckily there’s another book in the series: Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake. Probably better for girls…

The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. OK, it’s very heavy, but so so good. Hannah is really bored at her family seder and wishes she wasn’t there. Her family is annoying and the whole seder is pretty meaningless to her. Until she opens the door for Elijah and suddenly, she’s not in the present time anymore, she’s stepped into Poland in the early 1940s. Yes, it’s heavy, but so good.

If you are looking for something for a child who is really ready to understand the meaning of freedom, check out:

The Secret Seder

The Secret Seder

The Secret Seder by Doreen Rappaport. An illustrated book for older children, this is the story of a family who is pretending to be Gentiles during the Holocaust. The lengths that they are prepared to go to celebrate Passover and have a secret seder, is heart-breaking. There’s no violence and difficult images, but the idea of what they are saying during the seder vs. how they are living is really challenging.

OK, it’s a pretty solid list, though I’m sure I’m missing stuff. Any favorites I left out?

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Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder

So, I’ve been focusing recently on books for younger readers, mostly out of laziness since I read to my young readers often. However, I recently read a fantastic new early chapter book/ middle-grade novel that I couldn’t wait to share with you all. 

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder is the kind of book that children who love good stories will fall in love with. It’s the kind of book that you get sucked into, that you wind up staying up way past your bedtime to keep reading under the covers. For those of you who have children who dive into books with that kind of passion, this is the book for them.

Best of all, if you are looking for a book that you can read to your slightly younger reader, say a seven year old, this is a great option. It’s the story of a young girl and her best friend, who just happens to be a prince. The young girl is one of those lovely plucky heroines, but there’s a sadness to her also, as her mother disappeared when she was a baby. At least she thinks she disappeared, it’s better than thinking the alternative. Now don’t get discouraged, this isn’t a heavy book. It’s a funny adventure story as the young girl goes looking for her mother on the slightly magical Scratchy Mountain, and discovers what’s really important. And the prince? Well, at first he’s out of the picture as the King wants him to start learning to be a real prince (very fun stuff here), but ultimately he realizes that being a real person is more important, and a real person both follows his best friend, and his heart.

With great characters, some nice adventures, and just enough magic to keep it enchanting, this story is a winner. It seems like Laurel Snyder has a new book coming out — I can’t wait to see it.

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Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

Sometimes I play the following game: would I be willing to live like the parents do in the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books in order to have access to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? Usually, the answer is yes. Yes, I would be willing to go back to calling people Mr. this and Mrs. that. I might even be OK staying at home with no outside job. I might even be OK with the highlight of my day being an invitation to an exclusive ladies’ group. Yes, all this in order to have access to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

For those who haven’t yet read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle: write down the information and buy the books or get them from the library. Now. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has “cures” to common children’s problems, like not wanting to brush your teeth, not turning off the TV, not bathing, etc. She has answers my friends, answers. Let me backtrack. Written by Betty MacDonald in the 1950s, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a woman who lives alone in an upside-down house. When parents have difficulties with their children, they turn to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle who has a delightful cure that does not involve bribery, yelling or glasses of gin and tonic. There’s a bit of magic involved, but mostly a lot of natural consequences.

For instance, in the car this morning, we listened to The Radish Cure from the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The cure for a girl who refuses to bathe? Don’t bug her about it, just let her get filthier and filthier until her body is caked with topsoil. After a few weeks (ugh), go into her room while she is sleeping and plant tiny radish seeds on her arms and head and torso. When they sprout three leaves, you can pull them out. In the story at least, the girl quickly spent the day in the shower after the radishes were removed.

The stories are just funny enough for kids and spark lots of “what if” thoughts for parents. The parents in the stories are hilarious: all their kids are perfect, so it feels very much like real life (You mean your child won’t go to bed on time? My Jimmy loves to jump into bed the moments I give the word…).

There are a few different Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle titles. The ones I know best are the original, Happy Birthday Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm. You can find them all here.

And the audio version of the stories is also great — excellent narrator and something I can stand to listen to…

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Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel

I think I would be hard-pressed to find many parents who have not read Frog and Toad to their children. They are perfect little gems of stories, great for children of varying ages (always important if you have only one voice and more than one child). And, they are wonderful to listen to in the car (or anywhere your ipod or CD player takes you) — especially since they are narrated by the great Arnold Lobel, author and illustrator of the series.

Owl at Home

Owl at Home

Much less well known but equally wonderful (honestly) is Arnold Lobel’s Owl at Home. The downside of Owl at Home is that there is only Owl (no Toad to play off Frog and Frog to play off Toad). But luckily, Owl is just silly enough to make it on his own in these stories. With a similar humor found in Frog and Toad, Lobel plays with Owl’s misunderstandings (like when he becomes scared of the two bumps at the bottom of his bed).

But, again like Frog and Toad, there is also something sweet about Owl’s silliness — like when he thinks the moon is following him home. He finally believes he has convinced the moon to stay over the lake when it hides behind the clouds but then, in his bed, he feels sad to be all alone. Guess what fills his room with light? A good friend, who knows not to leave you even when you ask him to.

A great discovery for all those who wish there were more Frog and Toad stories.

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Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

My children NEED everything. Every toy. Every book. They have no concept of what things cost, no concept of moderation, no concept of the difference between want and need. In a nutshell, they are children.

I, on the other hand, am keenly aware of money, especially in this economic climate. I am keenly aware of what things cost, the need for moderation, the difference between want and need. I am a parent, it’s my job. I hate this job. I hate this job because I can’t figure out how to acknowledge that children don’t (and maybe shouldn’t?) understand money, and yet teach them to appreciate what they have, understand the difference between want and need.

Those Shoes

Those Shoes

So enter a book. I love books. I especially love Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. Those Shoes is the story of a boy who wants a new pair of cool shoes.

I have dreams about those shoes.
Black high-tops. Two white stripes.

My children dream of $50 Star Wars Lego sets. 

“Grandma, I want them.”
“There’s no room for ‘want’ around here — just ‘need,'”
Grandma says. “And what you need are new boots for winter.”

And thus comes the story of how our young friend deals with his wanting, how his grandmother deals with his wanting. We see the humiliation when his teacher sees how his shoes are falling apart and finds some extra shoes in “a box of shoes and other stuff he has for kids who need thing.” But these have an old cartoon animal on the side and they are not cool — they are the opposite of cool. We see the elation when he finds a pair at a thrift shop (even though they are too small and he has to squish his toes to fit them in). And then we see the amazing thing he does with the shoes. I’ll give you a clue, it has to do with another boy who wants shoes just like those but can’t afford them (and has small feet).

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How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

There are some books that are so beautiful that you want to buy extra copies so you can cut them up and use the pages as art for your walls. OK, it might just be me. But, if you’ve ever thought you might be inclined to do that, this is the book you’d want to do it with.

How to Catch a Star

How to Catch a Star

How to Catch a Star, by Oliver Jeffers, is not only beautiful, but also whimsical, touching, stirring and just about as perfect as a book for a young child can be. The story of a boy who wants to catch his own star, How to Catch a Star is a great lesson in imagination, perseverance and learning to make do with something that isn’t exactly what you wanted.

Once there was a boy and the boy loved stars very much.

The text is just that simple, but his ideas on how to catch the star are anything but. (At one point he wants to use his rocket ship but he’s out of petrol… If I had a dime for the number of times I hate that problem.) I just love the way this book is focused on the point of view of a child, where anything is possible, as long as you try hard enough.

Does he finally catch his star? Yes, but to find out how, you’ll have to read the book. Suffice to say, it’s a good ending…

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