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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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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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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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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

Alef-Bet

Alef-Bet

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

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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