For me, living in Southern California, the signs that Passover is on its way are not necessarily related to the weather. Instead I begin spotting boxes of matzo and jars of gefilte fish popping up on the shelves of my local supermarket. Close local friends call with plans for the seder, and we decide who will cook what, and how much we need to prepare. Family and friends, both in the U.S. and abroad, begin posting Facebook status updates about all the cleaning they’re doing prior to the holiday. We have to get rid of all traces of leavened products in our homes. It won’t be long now until we’re sharing the tradition that Jewish families have done for centuries.
In Is It Passover Yet?, a joyful picture book celebration of the lead up to the first night’s seder, a brother and sister notice the changes that spring heralds in such as flowers blooming and grass growing. “Passover is on its way.” This phrase, repeated on every other spread, builds the anticipation for both the story’s reader and the siblings eagerly awaiting the arrival of Passover.
When all of the windows and floors start to shine.
And our whole house smells clean and looks extra fine …
Passover is on its way.
We see Dad’s busy setting the table with his daughter on the night of the first seder, while Mom’s got kugel cooking. Her son is helping her get the charoset ready. Soon the relatives show up “And everyone’s ready for stories and singing …” The songs are one of my favorite parts of our seders and it’s obvious they are in this tale, too. I love how Barash not only got the rhyming so right, but included a Nana in the book as well. I recall dozens of happy seders with my Nana, aunts, uncles and cousins, so it’s extra special when “Grandma” or “Gran” are replaced by Nana!
Psacharopulo’s illustrations light up every page with glowing colors and a cheerfulness that’s infectious. It’s lovely how she’s added in pets to the spreads because the holiday’s all about family and our pets are so much a part of the fabric of everyday life. When in the end “Passover is here!” is exclaimed, we get a last glimpse of the seder from outside an open window. Inside the the family is dining together on this cherished celebration of freedom while outdoors the miracles of nature abound.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Click here for a look at a few more marvelous illustrations.
Hanukkah in Alaska, by Barbara Brown with illustrations by Stacey Schuett (Henry Holt and Company, $16.99, also available in ebook, ages 4-8 ), is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown with illustrations by Stacey Schuett, Henry Holt and Company, 2013.
Living in warm and sunny southern California, I was curious to find out if celebrating Hanukkah is any different in our 49th state. What I learned after reading Hanukkah in Alaska was so interesting that I’m certain your children will feel the same. Illustrator Schuett’s muted tones in her acrylic and gouache artwork set the scene of a freezing, snowy winter where a little girl is peeking outside, “making sure there are no moose around.” That could not be any more different from out here in L.A. where residents’ vigilance is devoted to looking both ways for the ever present automobile. We understand about the snow and the sub-zero temperatures, but with author Brown highlighting the presence of moose from the onset, readers can immediately tell they’re about to read something very unique.
The story unfolds during Hanukkah and centers around a little girl’s concern over the moose who’s taken a liking to her backyard. “He sleeps in our yard and eats our trees.” No matter what she does to try to get him to leave, the big antlered moose continues to inhabit the yard posing a threat to the girl’s blue swing. Why the swing? Because it’s attached to the tree he likes to nibble on. As the little girl narrates the tale, we learn that children in Alaska are taught to be wary of moose in certain situations. When playing outside in winter, if a moose comes along, “we have to hug a tree.” These big powerful creatures can cause tremendous damage with their antlers and their kicks so a child can never be too young to learn. I also learned that people who don’t live in Alaska live “Outside.” And because of its northern location, Alaska has very little daylight in winter making it an ideal environment for moose, but no for worried little girls.
So where does Hanukkah fit into this cold climate? When lighting the menorah every evening, it’s hard for our narrator to ignore the moose outside her window. One night her dad suggests they head outside to look at the night sky. There, spread out before their eyes, the family witnesses an amazing array of colors, “swirling and shining and glowing.” The northern lights or aurora borealis happen “only when the sky is just right.” The dad tells his daughter that they have their very own Hanukkah Festival of Lights. But despite the beautiful distraction, reality clicks in when the moose begins yanking on the swing. Everyone looks on horrified, but suddenly the little girl is struck by a delicious, Hanukkah themed idea for how to get the moose out of the backyard.
The satisfying (in more ways than one) ending to this charming Hanukkah story proves that miracles (like the miracle of Hanukkah itself) come in all shapes and sizes, some even edible!! An end page featuring an Author’s Note explains the phenomena of the northern lights and the history of Hanukkah so that the picture book is both accessible and enjoyable for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers.