Archive for October, 2008

Sukkot Books

I’m not sure what I’ll write about when these Jewish holidays are over. I feel like every other entry is holiday related. Then again, I also feel like every other day is a holiday …

Anyway, back to books. So, next up is Sukkot and we’re just going to go with a roundup on this one. Here’s what I see as the best books out there on the ole Festival of Booths.

Best for children ages 1-2:

Tamar’s Sukkah by Ellie Gellman

Tamar's Sukkah

Tamar

OK, the pictures are a little corny and old fashioned which gets points deducted in my book, but the story is lovey. Tamar is building her sukkah and each page, there’s something she needs help with, so she finds another child to help. But even when that task is complete, Tamar says that: “Something’s still missing.” It turns out that only when there are friends to share the sukkah is the sukkah really finished.

Best for children ages 2-3:

It’s Sukkah TIme by Latifa Berry Kropf & Sammy Spider’s First Sukkot by Sylvia Rouss

Sammy Spider's First Sukkot

Sammy Spider's First Sukkot

It's Sukkah Time!

It's Sukkah Time!

I’m giving this age group a tie. I’ve talked about both of the series before so I won’t dwell on them here. Younger kids seem to really like the “It’s [insert holiday name] Time!” stories which take place in a lovely looking Jewish preschool. In this book, the kids learn about sukkot, decorate the sukkah and create little miniature sukkahs. In terms of Sammy Spider, kids seem to love him, though adults grow weary of him (and his mother’s penchant for dwelling on all things spiders can’t do…). But, Sammy does learn all about Sukkot in the latest installment of Sammy’s adventures in the Shapiro house.

Best for kids ages 3-5:

Leo & Blossom’s Sukkah by Jane Breskin Zalben & Hillel Builds a House by Shoshana Lepon

Leo & Blossom's Sukkah

Leo & Blossom

So here, it’s not so much a tie as a split based on what kind of family you live in. Leo & Blossom’s Sukkah (which is sadly out of print) is great for children in a variety of different homes. Zalben, who has created two main series of stories about little animals that live in Jewish homes and celebrate Jewish holidays, here tells a lovely Sukkot story. The pictures are very small but it’s a nice story and there are many more where that one came from. The story is also anthologized in Beni’s Family Treasury where you’ll find many more stories like it.

Hillel Builds a House

Hillel Builds a House

Hillel Builds a House is also a lovely story (with very out of date illustrations) but it’s better for families that actively celebrate Jewish holidays on a regular basis (which does not just mean Orthodox folks). Hillel loves to build houses and wants to always have his own little house. Every holiday, starting with Hanukkah, he tries to have his own little house (at Hanukkah he builds it in the basement but he can’t light his candles in it; on Purim he makes a house costume but it gets rained on; etc. etc.). Finally, it’s Sukkot which is a perfect holiday for building a house!

Best for children ages 5-7:

Night Lights by Barbara Diamond Goldin

Night Lights
Night Lights

Night Lights is a great story by Barbara Diamond Goldin about sleeping outside in a Sukkah. While last year, Daniel (who you may remember from the Rosh Hashanah story: The World’s Birthday) was OK sleeping outside because he grandfather was there, this year he is scared to do it. Not making things easier, his big sister Naomi keeps telling him that he won’t be able to do it because he’ll be too scared. In the end, even Naomi is scared and they realize that being together, they can make it through the night. I like this story a lot, but I am a little disappointed in the re-illustration that was done when the book was re-released. So, on the one hand, I fully support buying the edition in print because then the money actually goes to the author, but on the other hand, the artwork in the original edition (by Louise August) is exceptional and I would advocate buying that edition, even though it’s used. The one other note I would make is that the new edition (published by UAHC Press/ URJ) is less scary than the old edition because the illustrations are less intense. So, decide on your own — or get both and compare!

Best for children  ages 6-9:

The Mysterious Guests by Eric Kimmel

The Mysterious Guests

The Mysterious Guests

The Mysterious Guests is a gorgeous new book that is new this year. According to the prologue:

It is said that our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, return to Earth for the harvest festival of Sukkot. Disguised as weary travelers, they appear at the sukkah, asking to share the holiday meal. If they are welcomed as honored guests, they leave a blessing. If not, they teach a lesson that is not soon forgotten.

The Mysterious Guests shows us how some people who have much to give, give so grudgingly, while those with little to give, give all they can. It’s a lovely lesson about tzedakah and a model of how to greet guests.

Comments (1)

Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds

Well, it’s almost Yom Kippur so my thoughts are already turning to … food. One day maybe they will turn to religious/ spiritual things but for now food is my main pre-occupation.

Chicks and Salsa

Chicks and Salsa

One of my favorite children’s books about food is Aaron Reynolds’ Chicks and Salsa. It’s just a fun and silly book about a collection of farm animals who get tired of eating chicken feed, slop, etc. and instead start farming the vegetables to make their own delicious treats. The writing is fun and zippy, the illustrations are hilarious (look out for the mice who are the “dealers” of the story) and maybe one day my sons will love to cook? Well, maybe that won’t be influenced by this book, but as a parent, I love reading it.

For those who are fasting, have an easy fast, and to everyone else, eat well!

Leave a Comment

Checkpoints by Marilyn Levy

I feel very mixed about Checkpoints by Marilyn Levy, a new middle-grade/ YA book that takes place in the midst of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Marilyn Levy

Marilyn Levy

I started out really wanting to like it. I’m always looking for good books that take place in Israel for teens. As someone who feels transported to another time and place when I read a good book, I feel like for some people, it’s the closest thing they are going to have to actually living or even visiting Israel. And then I started reading the book and I become really frustrated by how poorly edited it feels. Reading it is like reading a really good first draft when everything is just laid out there and it’s a great story but it doesn’t stick together well. So then I wanted to dislike it. But even then, I couldn’t do it. It’s not a perfect book, by any stretch, but it actually happens to be a really good story, if you can get passed the messiness and the short choppy chapters. It’s actually remarkably stirring and riveting, two things I look for in a good teen book.

So, what’s this great messy story about? Noa is a 17 year old teen living in Jerusalem who feels very sure about her political peacenik beliefs. She’s proud of her brother when he refuses to serve in the settlements and doesn’t understand her best friend’s anger at the pride she feels. She even befriends a Palestinian girl who lives in Abu Dis, an Arab neighborhood. And she has the usual crushes on boys, etc.

But all this changes when she and her family are the victims of a terrorist bombing in a hotel in Netanya. Suddenly all her assumptions about peace and the Arab-Israeli conflict are shaken up. It’s in this period, where she is no longer sure who she is and what she believes in, that we see a real picture of what it’s like to live in the reality of today’s Israel and we see the real brilliance of the novel.

Leave a Comment

Yom Kippur Books

Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride

Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride

Time for another Jewish holiday. This time, let’s catch all the good Yom Kippur books in one nice post and be done with it. My stomach grumbles when I spend too much time thinking about fasting.

First, a quick shout-out to Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen, mentioned earlier. Yes, it’s a Rosh Hashanah book, but with a powerful Yom Kippur message of changing our behaviors.
The Hardest Word

The Hardest Word

Probably the best book though is The Hardest Word by Jacqueline Jules. I need to admit that I personally don’t love this book. Usually, I try hard not to recommend children’s books that adults won’t like — but in this case, this is a huge crowd pleaser for the younger crowd and actually effectively teaches how difficult, and important it is, to say you are sorry.  I won’t describe the story because I doubt you’d look at it if I did but really, it is actually quite a good discussion starter. The illustrations may feel very old fashioned, as does the text type (see me being picky), but the message is good and kids seem to really relate to it. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how much you are willing to put up with for your children, if your children like the Ziz character, there are a few more books featuring the mythical giant bird for them to enjoy and for you to cringe at. Check out Noah and the Ziz, The Princess and the Ziz, and The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle.

Gershon's Monster

Gershon's Monster

Finally, for many, Gershon’s Monster by Eric Kimmel is the best Rosh Hashanah book around. And while I agree that it is beautiful (really, really beautiful), and a gripping story, it’s also scary (really, really scary). I’m including it here, instead of at Rosh Hashanah time, because Gershon’s Monster is the story of a man who never wants to own up to his poor behavior. Instead, he literally sweeps them away and dumps them in the sea. Well, nothing good is going to come out of that. As the wise man warns at the beginning of the book:

“Did you think you could live so thoughtlessly forever? The sea cries out because you have polluted her waters! God is angry with you. Accept God’s judgement. Your recklessness will bring your children more sorrow than you can imagine.”

But Gershon doesn’t change his ways and that’s when things get scary — monster scary and children’s in harm’s way scary. However, I will say this: remarkably, most children LOVE this book and don’t find it scary at all. It’s only adults who cringe when the wise man’s words come true. This is not a great book for children who tend to get scared easily, or grown-ups for that matter.

Comments (1)

The Shadow of a Flying Bird by Mordicai Gerstein

I often get requests for book recommendations and frequently they involve books that can explain death to a child. Sadly, these books are few and far between. In these books, we are looking for someone to say something that we don’t know how to say ourselves, to explain something to our children that we don’t really understand. You want a book that includes platitudes on death? I got plenty of those. But they aren’t worth much.

The Shadow of a Flying Bird

The Shadow of a Flying Bird

My favorite book by leaps and bounds for this difficult topic is The Shadow of a Flying Bird by Mordicai Gerstein. It isn’t actually about the death of a loved one, but rather about the impending death of Moses. Don’t stop reading — I’ll explain, I promise. Based on a Midrash (a story created to explain parts of the Bible), Gerstein shows Moses at his final moments, as God allows him to see the Promised Land but not to enter it. At this moment, though he has lived for 120 years, Moses begs to live longer. He prays 515 prayers and begs to even become a sheep or a butterfly. But God says: “Everything born has a time to die. … I cannot change that.”

Moses begs the hills and the mountains to plead on his behalf, and then the sun and the moon. But each time, he is reminded that everything must come to an end. When finally Moses gives up, God asks each of His angels, Gabriel, Michael and Zagzagle, to take Moses’ soul and each refuses:

God turned to His angel Zagzagle.

“I command you,” He said. “Bring me the soul of Moses.”

And Zagzagle wept and said, “Oh Lord of Heaven, he is my disciple and I am his teacher. How can I take the soul of one I love?”

In the end, even Moses’ soul was desperate to stay in his body, begging to remain even after God promises the soul he can sit beside Him on his throne of glory. And finally, it is God that must take Moses’ soul and even then, he weeps a he does it, fearing that never again will there be someone who will “oppose evildoers … speak for me and love me as Moses did…”

It’s a heartbreaking book with incredible artwrok and stirring text. And really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t need to have anything to do with Moses or God or the Bible if you don’t want it to. At the end of the day, it’s the closest description to the feeling we go through when we lose a loved one. And this is what you can tell your children: that each person is as important as Moses. That everytime a person dies, the whole world pleads on his/her behalf; even the angels don’t want to take them and separate us from the one we love; even his/her soul doesn’t wanted to be parted. But that everyone has his or her time and nothing we can do changes that.

On that happy note, have a wonderful weekend!

Comments (1)

Eight Animals on the Town by Susan Middleton Elya

So, truthfully, I’d like to keep writing about why Twilight is so gripping (I’m now 1/2 way through Breaking Dawn — guess what I did over Rosh Hashanah), but I feel like you’ve got the point. I recommend the series highly, for anyone who isn’t sure. Not so much for teens (because they read it months/years ago) but for adults who want to temporarily remember what it felt like to be a teen. Moving on (we’ll see how long that lasts.) 

Eight Animals on the Town

Eight Animals on the Town

So, here’s a completely different suggestion. We received Eight Animals on the Town by Susan Middleton Elya as a gift. And, I’ll admit, I wasn’t that jazzed about it when I first saw it because it is a bilingual book. To me, that just seemed silly. I mean c’mon, there’s enough pressure on my 5 year old already that I don’t need him to be learning Spanish. At least not this year. So, I’m recommending this book not because it will help your young child learn to speak Spanish but because it’s a bilingual book that is just fun to read. And, though the small child does not appear to either know how to count or name animals in Spanish after countless readings, I’m actually starting to learn those things — which is helpful given that I speak no Spanish at all.

Basically, this book is the story of a bunch of animals who go on the town to buy food, have a big dinner party and then come home. The 30 Spanish words are nicely integrated into the story so by the time you realize you didn’t know what that word is, you’ve figured it out. Here’s an example:

Eight animales, ready to eat, head to the market on animal feet.

First comes a mouse. He’s a raton. Numero uno, out on his own.

Again, I wouldn’t start making flashcards out of the words or anything, but there’s something kind of cool about hearing a story that blends different languages and different sounds. And, according to Amazon, I’m in for a treat because the adventure continues with Eight Animals Bake a Cake and Eight Animals Play Ball. Can’t wait to find out what Spanish words I’m going to learn, I mean my kids are going to learn, next.

Leave a Comment

« Newer Posts