Archive for illustrated books for children ages 10+

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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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

Nachshon

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!

Passover!

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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The Flag With Fifty-Six Stars by Susan Goldman Rubin

Today is Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day) and so I’m thinking of the tremendous heroism and sacrifice of the members of the military — now and in the past.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

Having grown up in Canada where people put poppies on their coats today, and where there is a minute of silence at 11:11 a.m., I wanted to recommend a book about soldiers — preferably one that incorporates In Flanders Fields, the haunting poem we were forced to memorize as children. Sadly, while there is such a book — In Flanders Fields by Linda Granfield — I have to admit that I haven’t read it and so it is difficult to recommend it (though if you try it out, let me know what you think).

However, this week also marks Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass, a night that some point to as the first major act of the Nazi government against the Jews in Germany. So in memory of both of these events, I wanted to recommend a really special, albeit it painful, book.

The Flag With the Fifty-Six Stars

The Flag With the Fifty-Six Stars

The Flag With Fifty-Six Stars by Susan Goldman Rubin is a haunting portrayal of the last days of WW2 when Jewish prisoners in the Mathausen concentration camp have heard that the American army is on their way to liberate them. Despite the fact that the prisoners are sick, having eaten virtually nothing for years and filthy from the squalor they’ve been forced to live in, they decide that they want to give a gift to these American soldiers who are coming to help them. And so, scrimping and saving and looking for scraps, they heroically find enough supplies to create an American flag to greet their saviors. However, while they get the requisite number of stripes right, they wind up creating a flag with fifty-six stars. It’s the true story of the creation of the flag and the incredible courage of the prisoners and the soldiers that Susan Goldman Rubin retells in this fascinating book.

It’s not a story for the faint of heart, but an important story nonetheless as we remember not only the Jews and other nations that were killed in the Holocaust, but also the brave troops that fought, and died, to liberate them.

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