Archive for picture books for older kids (7-10)

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, 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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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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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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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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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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