Posts Tagged folktale

Raisel’s Riddle by Erica Silverman

I’m late for Purim. Thanks to the encouragement of my good friend Amy Meltzer (plug: check out her blog at:, I’ve been planning to return to my discarded blog. I had high hopes of getting back in time for Purim but, while today is technically still pre-Purim, my good suggestions are hardly timely enough to help you order some good reads. So apologies and I’m going to go with a classic story that takes place during Purim but can be read all year long.

Raisel's Riddle

Raisel's Riddle

Raisel’s Riddle by Erica Silverman can be thought of as the Jewish Cinderella story — complete with a poor young woman who works for a pittance, the folks around her who mistreat her, the perfect caregiver who has passed away and the stroke of luck that allows her to meet her prince charming and capture his heart. However, while Cinderella is a classic, it also provides us with some dubious morals. Not so for Raisel’s Riddle. Her kindness is what earns her the trip to the ball (here the Purim festival). it’s not Raisel’s beauty that draws the attention of the prince (here the rabbi’s son) to but her intelligence and her wit.

Don’t grow concerned that this is a heavy-handed politically correct too-Jewish for modern comfort fairytale. With lush illustrations by Susan Gaber, and wonderful wordplays from Erica Silverman, Raisel’s Riddle is simply a more upscale version of Cinderella. More importantly, it’s a story that won’t make you cringe. And unlike the original, it’s a version you will be able to stand to read over and over again.

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When the Chickens Went on Strike by Erica Silverman

When the Chickens Went on Strike by Erica Silverman is stunning — which really counts for a lot for me because I think that everyone judges a book by its cover. Even more so with children’s books: everyone judges a picture book by its illustrations.

When the Chickens Went on Strike

But I will offer, that it is on a bit of an odd topic. Adapted from a Sholom Aleichem story, Chickensis about a boy who has a really hard time being good. He wants to be good, he really does. But somehow between wanting and doing is a big leap — the same problem that many children I know have. So, what’s odd about that? Well, then comes the custom of kapores — the ritual that few non-Ultra Orthodox Jews do anymore — where a person swings a chicken over their head as a way of atoning for their sins. It’s an odd custom and the chickens don’t want to have any part of it (naturally). In the process of trying to convince them, this boy (and the reader) learn a good lesson about how to be a better person (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not related to whether or not you swing a chicken over your head).

It’s definitely a fun book, even if your family doesn’t practice the custom of Kapores. Everyone needs a little help being a better person…

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Even Higher by Richard Ungar

This week is going to be all Rosh Hashanah all the time, for fairly obvious reasons.

One of my favorite Rosh Hashanah books is Even Higher by Richard Ungar. I have to admit, the illustrations do not thrill me. It’s a question of taste — it’s not that they are bad, I’m just not into the Chagall colors.

Even Higher

Even Higher

But the story is lovely. Based on a story by the great I.L. Peretz, It’s about a couple of boys who see the rabbi disappear the day before Rosh Hashanah every year. This year, they’ve decided that one of the boys should follow him to prove that he goes up to heaven to talk with God. When Reuven 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 Higheris 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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A Sack Full of Feathers by Debby Waldman

There are some folktales that are centered around the need for a heroine to ignore ugly old people who want to stop them from marrying their dashing prince. They are tiresome and should be replaced at all costs by The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch.

And then there are folktales that can actually offer good teachable moments. Sadly, they are often ugly, printed on cheap paper, with poor illustrations and lots of words on every page. The kind of book you only want to read if your child already has his/ her eyes closed.

A Sack Full of Feathers

A Sack Full of Feathers

And then there is A Sack Full of Feathers by Debby Waldman. While it takes place in an Eastern Europe shtetl, it has more colors than you can shake a stick at and is not parochially Jewish. What it is, is a great story that addresses children where they are at. Yankel is a storyteller — a child with a gift for telling stories and capturing his listeners attention. The problem is, his stories aren’t his own: they are stories he overhears and thinks he is repeating properly, with no concept of discretion or the subtleties around the truth. Basically, he is like many of my carpool kids, and my 5-year old, who repeat things not maliciously but because they don’t really know better. Enter the rabbi who wants to teach this boy a gentle lesson with a practical lesson on what happens to feathers (stories) when you let them loose.

It’s funny, it’s beautiful, it’s magical and it’s great for kids lacking discretion (and their parents too).

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