Posts Tagged Rosh Hashanah

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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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.

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Rosh Hashanah Books for Little Kids

To my mind, Rosh Hashanah books for young children are at best OK and at worst, very annoying. For little kids, you don’t tend to get a great story, you get object identification and something to chew on. That said, there are some better than others and here are my favorites (in order of age appropriateness).

Happy Birthday, World

Happy Birthday, World

Happy Birthday World by Latifa Berry Kropf

Happy Birthday, World is a sweet board book that compares Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world, to a child’s birthday. “On your birthday, you eat a delicious birthday cake. / On this birthday, we eat crisp apples dipped in honey.” I’m not crazy about the illustrations, but that’s just a taste issue. Basically, it’s a good one for toddlers (though I feel like few of them have a real sense of what a birthday is…).

Apples and Honey

Apples and Honey

Apples and Honey by Joan Holub

If your child is ready for something a little bit more sophisticated than a board book, Apples and Honey is actually a nice choice. A lift-the-flap book, this one has a bit of a plot as a family prepares for Rosh Hashanah. The illustrations are lovely, but the book is stapled together, giving it that lovely supermarket feel. I’m a big fan, but I do wish they would have spent the extra pennies to get a real binding.

It's Shofar Time!

It's Shofar Time!

It’s Shofar Time! by Latifa Berry Kropf

It’s Shofar Time! is part of a well-known series of photo essay books for little kids around the Jewish holidays. They all take place at a lovely looking Jewish preschool in Charlottesville, VA, as a group of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural children celebrate the Jewish holidays. Surprisingly, it’s actually a lovely series and this book — centered around Rosh Hashanah is no exception. In my experience, children love looking at photos of other children and in addition to having age-appropriate text, it’s also a great advertisement for Jewish preschool.

Sammy Spider’s First Rosh Hashanah by Sylvia Rouss

Sammy Spider's First Rosh Hashanah

Sammy Spider's First Rosh Hashanah

And finally, it would be difficult to have a list of holiday books for little children without a mention of Sammy Spider. Sammy, for those who haven’t had the “pleasure” of meeting him, is a curious little spider who lives with his mother in the Shapiro household. Sammy watches the Shapiros celebrate their holidays and constantly wants to join in. His mother like to remind him (over and over again): “Silly little Sammy. Spiders don’t … . Spider’s spin webs.” So, not great for teaching your child they can do anything they want, but the books are a good model of Jewish families living Jewishly (but not too Jewishly). In this “adventure,” Sammy learns all about Rosh Hashanah but not before he accidentally gets stuck in the sticky honey. Parents will likely find Sammy tiresome pretty quickly but unfortunately, kids really seem to like him. He’s kind of like the Jewish Curious George.

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The World’s Birthday by Barbara Diamond Goldin

I’m trying hard to stick with books that are still in print, to make it easier on everyone. But every so often, I’m going to need to go back to some lovely books that you are going to need to hunt around a little bit for.

The World's Birthday

The World's Birthday

It would be hard to talk about Rosh Hashanah books without mentioning The World’s Birthday by Barbara Diamond Goldin. Goldin is one of the top Jewish children’s book authors with so many wonderful folktales and stories to her credit. They are all gems and you will hear about many of them on this site. The World’s Birthday is a great story for 4 and 5 year old children.  Daniel, the hero of this story (and of another Barbara Diamond Goldin book Night Lights) thinks that if Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world, why not throw a birthday party? And while his older sister Naomi (who also features prominently in Night Lights) thinks it’s a dumb idea, he perseveres and creates a lovey new Rosh Hashanah tradition.

It’s a nice, quiet story, perfect for children who love birthday parties. It may be hard to find, but it’s worth it once you do.

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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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Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen

This year brings a new Rosh Hashanah story that will hit the mark with many young children, particularly those who have a fascination with train.

Engineer Ari
Engineer Ari

Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen takes place against the backdrop of the first train ride across Israel — from Jaffa to Jerusalem — right before Rosh Hashanah. Ari is delighted to be chosen to be at the helm of this first trip across the country and doesn’t seem to notice/ care that his best friends, who were not chosen, are feeling upset. But as he travels across the country and picks up supplies for Rosh Hashanah (shofarot, round challahs, apples, honey), everything reminds him of his two friends and their sadness.

By the time Ari gets to Jerusalem, he can barely enjoy the festivities because he knows that he has to go back and say he’s sorry to his friends — for boasting and not being sensitive to their feelings. And yes, the play on words is made (a little too deliberately for my taste): Ari says he has to do teshuva (repentance), to turn himself around (the literal meeting of teshuva). While the book ends before he reaches his friends, it provides a great jumping off point to discuss how one says they are sorry. 

It’s a solid new book for Rosh Hashanah, filled with beautiful illustrations, an important message and, best of all, a train!

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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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