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Best New Hanukkah Books for Kids 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF

THE BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS

FOR KIDS 2023

REVIEWS:

Latke's First Hanukkah cover Latke lighting menorahLATKE’S FIRST HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg
(Viking BYR; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Little ones will love meeting Latke, a lovable creation of author-illustrator Alan Silberberg’s whimsical imagination. What’s great about his books is that parents will be entertained reading them as much as their kids. The new 16-page board book, Latke’s First Hanukkah, is no exception. Add various voices for the characters during a read-aloud and you’re set!

Applesauce and Sour Cream get into a tiff over which topping tastes better, the Dreidels along with Latke spin ’til they drop, dizzy but likely delighted, and the sufganiyot (jelly donuts) “are full of joy (and jelly).” As each night gets underway, the counting of the candles continues as do the antics of Latke’s colorfully illustrated guests. Of course, included in the company is gelt, and on night six, the one that made me LOL was when Babka, Challah, Bagel, Kugel, Blintz, and Falafel arrived.  There is much to enjoy here so why not join Latke for some laughs and a memorable first Hanukkah celebration?

 

HANUKKAH UPSIDE DOWNHanukkah Upside Dow cover upside down child handing dreidel to rightside up child
Written by Elissa Brent Weissman

Illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
(Abrams BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m so happy there’s a new international-themed Hanukkah book to be added to bookshelves everywhere. Its illustrations are charming and kid-friendly with characters I’d love to try drawing myself (I particularly enjoyed the spread with everyone eating sufganiyot or jelly donuts)  with Cousins Noah and Nora may live continents apart (Noah’s in New York and Nora’s in New Zealand), but it’s clear from their chats on the phone or via text that they are close. As Hanukkah approaches, the two set up a competition to see who has the best Hanukkah. Both also disagree on which cousin lived upside down on the planet, something many kids may think about and find funny.

This new slant on celebrating the eight-day Festival of Lights is clever as both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres’ differences are highlighted as the Hanukkah celebrations get underway. In New York, it’s winter and one day behind. In New Zealand it’s summer. In New York, it got dark early while in New Zealand, the sun set late. Despite that, on the first night of Hanukkah, both cousins lit the chanukiah or Hanukkah menorah. While Noah wore boots, Nora went barefoot, yet they both ate yummy latkes. I love this spot-on comparison:  “Noah threw snowballs. Nora did cannonballs.” Whether skating or surfing, or learning the local languages, the Jewish cousins find the challenge they’ve tasked themselves with to be a tough one. They say the same prayers. Do the same good deeds and spend time with loved ones. So whose celebration is the best? And is it really about the differences?

Though the main characters may live thousands of miles apart, the beauty in this story is that ultimately the similarities between the cousins’ Hanukkah festivities, and their relationship are what counts and what will stand out to young readers.

 

Eight Nights of Lights cover child holding menorah and dreidel.EIGHT NIGHTS OF LIGHTS: 
A Celebration of Hanukkah
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Hilli Kushnir
(HarperCollins BYR; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I’ve never seen anything quite like this interactive picture book that engages young readers all Eight Nights of Lights! The design invites children to participate safely (no real candles or matches are involved) in the Hanukkah celebration which they can enjoy in one read or return to each night.

On the first night, kids meet the narrator Lena, and her kitty, Pickles as they prep the menorah and learn its family history from her father. The educational elements are introduced so the youngest readers can learn about Hanukkah traditions. “It was the first night of the holiday, so there was just one candle to put in the menorah. Plus the shammash, the helper candle. The shammash was used each night to light all the other candles.”

The story progresses to the next night when readers remove the second candle from the book’s paper menorah to see what happens with Lena and her family. Different aspects of the holiday are shared every night; from dreidel playing to the story of the heroic Maccabee brothers, from giving presents to giving to others (tzedakah), from making latkes to eating jelly donuts, from a Hanukkah hike to acting out the Maccabee story with cousins. The story concludes with a fun Hanukkah party at the synagogue on the eighth night that includes cookie decorating, pin the shammash on the menorah, and singing and dancing to beloved Hanukkah songs. I can easily see children asking for this book every year as part of the celebration. It also makes a wonderful gift.

Watch this video to see exactly how unique this interactive picture book is.

MORE NEW HANUKKAH BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

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Picture Book Review – Challah Day

 

CHALLAH DAY

Written by Charlotte Offsay

Illustrated by Jason Kirschner

(Holiday House; $18.99, Ages 3-6)

 

 

Challah Day Cover family admiring challah

 

 

Have you ever tasted challah French toast? Better yet, challah stuffing at Thanksgiving? I adore it! My husband scores big points when he brings some challah home. You may compare it to brioche, but there are some differences setting them apart, the biggest being butter. There is no dairy in challah. Try it sometime and I have a feeling you’ll agree with me.

So now let’s find out about Challah Day written by Charlotte Offsay and illustrated by Jason Kirschner, a rhyming picture book released this past summer that I’ve been eager to read as not only a fan of the bread but of the author, too!

 

Challah Day spread 1 pour the yeast in.
Reproduced with permission from Holiday House Publishing, Inc. Text copyright © 2023 by Charlotte Offsay. Illustrations copyright © 2023 by Jason Kirschner. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

The story introduces a jubilant young narrator describing challah day at her house. Together, her family members ready the dough for this delicious egg bread. Challah is eaten on Shabbat (Sabbath) as well as throughout the year except on Passover. She takes readers through all the steps via top-notch rhyme (see sample below) making this an irresistible year-round read-aloud.  As the preparations get underway, the words flow off the page and little tummies may start to growl. Baby is humorously included in the illustrations as well as an adorable corgi who just happens to be in the right place at the right time.

 

Yeast and sugar – water’s warm,
mix and watch those bubbles form!
Crack the eggs – one… two… three… four
Extra if some hit the floor.

 

The above stanza is from one of my favorite spreads in the kitchen where so much of the story’s action unfolds. Kirschner’s even spelled out Challah Day on the fridge in the form of magnets. Clever! The palette with lots of pale pinks and greens is pleasing and upbeat with a slightly retro feel, especially in Baby’s hairstyle and the kitchen design.

Everything comes together when the challah is cooked and special guests arrive—Grandma and Grandpa! Now that we’ve seen how it’s all done, it’s time to light the Shabbat candles and then enjoy the challah homemade with heart and lots of fun too! So much joy has gone into the baking and now we can delight (albeit vicariously) in the delicious taste of every last morsel. The love this family shares as they practice this beautiful tradition emanates from every page and spending time with them cooking may just get your family to start doing likewise.

 

Challah Day spread2 homemade challah from the heart
Reproduced with permission from Holiday House Publishing, Inc. Text copyright © 2023 by Charlotte Offsay. Illustrations copyright © 2023 by Jason Kirschner. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

There are even four pages of back matter including an Author’s Note, interesting info about challah (find out what the braiding symbolizes), and the recipe that the author uses to make her family’s challah which I am eager to bake!

Click here to download the recipe kit.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Picture Book Review – Two New Years

 

TWO NEW YEARS

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Two_New_Years_cover_multicultural_Chinese_Jewish_family_celebrating

 

Reading Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.

 

Two New Years int1 family celebrating rosh hashanah and lunar new year.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.

Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why  Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.

The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the  depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.

 

 

Two New Years int2 sweeping troubles out the door and casting old mistakes into stream.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.

Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.

I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review for Rosh Hashanah – Tzimmes for Tzipporah

 

TZIMMES FOR TZIPPORAH

Written by Megan Hoyt

Illustrated by Christine Battuz

(Apples & Honey Press; $18.95, Ages 4-7)

 

 

 

 

When autumn arrives, it’s time to get ready for Rosh Hashanah, one of the Jewish high holy days. In Tzimmes for Tzipporah, written by Megan Hoyt and illustrated by Christine Battuz, readers meet Tzipporah who lives on a farm and is thrilled to be finally old enough to pitch in with the preparations. Rosh Hashanah has always been one of my favorite holidays so I couldn’t wait to read this new story.

“The earth is almost ready to share a special secret.” Lovely lyrical, anticipatory language packs the pages of this celebratory picture book that is sure to make your mouth water. The story begins just three days before the Rosh Hashanah holiday (noted in red typeface) and Tzipporah is eager to join Papa on the tractor as it turns over the lumpy soil. Rutabagas, yams, turnips, potatoes, and carrots have been harvested. Now, with just two days until Rosh Hashanah, it’s time to dust off the dirt and put the vegetables in burlap bags. Friends help make the work fun and the time fly!

 

Tzimmes for Tzipporah int1 friends help clean up vegetable harvest.
Interior illustrations from Tzimmes for Tzipporah written by Megan Hoyt and illustrated by Christine Battuz, Apples and Honey Press ©2023.

 

Kids will learn about farming life as they vicariously experience what’s involved through Tzipporah. It may not always be easy, and growing your own food is something so many children know little about, so I’m happy this book portrays the process, not just the end result. Tzipporah and her pals clean off the root vegetables with wire brushes. More hard work. This line, from later that evening when things are winding down, says it all. “Aching arms. Sore feet. Happy hearts.”

The next day, the last one before Rosh Hashanah means Tzipporah can cook at last. Along with brisket and honey cake, sweet tzimmes is on the menu and that’s what Tzipporah will help make. Using a tried and true recipe, this delicious dish is made from what the family has grown. Readers will see how Tzipporah spends a lot of time peeling with her father. He cheerfully assures her it will taste delicious despite her doubt.

 

Tzimmes for Tzipporah int2 Tzipporah stares at food in oven
Interior spread from Tzimmes for Tzipporah written by Megan Hoyt and illustrated by Christine Battuz, Apples and Honey Press ©2023.

 

After a visit to the synagogue for the Rosh Hashanah service and the traditional shofar blowing to ring in the new year, the family heads home to welcome friends and neighbors. Battuz’s bright and upbeat illustration above showing Tzipporah and her cute dog watching the tzimmes warm up in the oven is one of my favorite spreads. I can relate to it and likely many young readers can too! Tasing something you’ve helped make is quite exciting for a child. I only noticed the kitty in the basket by the plants after the second reading so see if your children spot it.

Capping off this fresh perspective on the holiday is a tzimmes recipe I intend to cook. There’s also an author’s note explaining the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and why Tzipporah’s experience is so meaningful for children to read about. I recommend adding this enjoyable picture book to your holiday collection. Why not have your child bring it to school so classmates can learn about the importance of Rosh Hashanah?

Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Picture Book Review for Jewish Heritage Month – Seven Good Years

SEVEN GOOD YEARS:
A YIDDISH FOLKTALE

Written by Shoham Smith

Illustrated by Eitan Eloa

Translated by Ilana Kurshan

(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

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Seven Good Years cover Tuvia gold goat and family
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Based on a story from the early 1900s by I. L. Peretz, this thought-provoking Jewish folktale presents the story of Tuvia, a poor hard-working man, living in a ramshackle hut with his children and wife Sorka
when a magical older man offers him a fortune for seven years. How can he pass that
up?
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This terrific retelling of Seven Good Years A Yiddish Folktale, written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa and seamlessly translated by Ilana Kurshan, asks the question – If you were offered a life of wealth for seven years, no less and no more, would you start those years now, wait, or do something unexpected? This is the dilemma our main character must decide.
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Seven Good Years int1 Tuvia was poor
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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Using mostly primary colors, Eloa’s loosely drawn images depict Tuvia dressed with a rope around his waist because he can’t afford a belt, carrying heavy loads in his job as a porter. He does what he can to put food on his family’s plates and educate his children. But when the marketplace empties out, and the merchants pack up their wares and close shop, Tuvia asks himself “What will I do now?” The simple yet expressive illustrations depict a small village in Poland with goats and horses where people live hand to mouth yet seem content with their lot in life.
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When an unusual older man arrives dressed in bright green, Tuvia’s goat nibbles on the man’s blue feathered hat. Meanwhile, Tuvia appears startled and wonders if the man needs help with something. Instead, he has an offer for Tuvia. “Seven good years in which you won’t need to work carrying heavy loads on your back. Seven years in which you’ll be able to buy everything in this market!”
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So how does Tuvia respond? (I’m glad you asked!). Tuvia is in shock, unsure how to respond. “What will happen at the end of the seven years?” Tuvia asks. “You’ll go back to being a porter!” he is told. Tuvia asks if he can go home and discuss it with his wife Sorka. “Go home and ask her. I’ll wait here.”
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Seven Good Years int2 magical man and Tuvia
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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“So what do you say?” Tuvia asks Sorka. And what does Sorka reply? (I’m glad you asked!) Smith inserts the phrase ‘I’m glad you asked’ throughout adding fun repetition to this uplifting tale. Tuvia is concerned about what will happen when they get old and the seven years of gold runs out. Sorka is concerned about feeding the children and paying their teacher. “Go back to the man and tell him that your Sorka says—let the seven good years begin right now!”
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The magical man is shown with a large smile on his face telling Tuvia to go home to his wife and fortune. Arriving at home, Tuvia finds his joyous children behind his ramshackle hut, along with his delighted wife, their skinny goat and … a pile of gold!
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Seven Good Years int3 family rejoices with pile of gold
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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Seven years go by and the benevolent old man returns. Tuvia brings him to his home to tell Sorka that the seven good years are over only for the older man to discover the family still lives in the ramshackle hut and are dressed in the same tattered clothes! The mysterious man feels sorry for the family but the family says no need to feel sorry. It’s clear they are very happy.
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It turns out the family only took the money they needed to educate their children and now
that the children are finished with school, Tuvia tells the older man to give the gold to a needy
family. And what happens after that? (I’m glad you asked!) The next morning Sorka and Tuvia
find a great big pile of gold in their yard! And so begins another seven years of good fortune.
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The interesting back matter tells about Peretz, a prolific author of stories, folktales, plays, and essays in both
Yiddish and Hebrew. It also explains how Seven Good Years reflects Peretz’s appreciation for the simple piety of Eastern European Jews. The book’s message, influenced by what ancient Jewish rabbis teach, beautifully conveys what having riches actually is. “Who is wealthy? One who is content with what they have.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1) This hopeful folktale has been around for over a hundred years and still resonates today. What a meaningful read for Jewish Heritage Month and for parents to teach children that happiness is not dependent on fortune.
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Follow the book’s link here to request an activity guide.
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• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Six New Children’s Passover Books for 2023

 

CHILDREN’S PASSOVER BOOKS FOR 2023

~A ROUNDUP~

 

Free Passover Clipart of Seder plate

 

I love the variety of this year’s Passover picture books. They’re clever and inclusive and will inspire imagination. I hope these stories are ones that children will request again and again. You’ll also see how in different books, Seder is sometimes capitalized and sometimes not and how many different ways there are to spell matzah. Enjoy!

 

 

Afikomen cover three children peeking out from under tableAFIKOMEN
Written by Tziporah Cohen
Illustrated by Yaara Eshet
(Groundwood Books; $19.99, Ages 3-6)

If Magic Treehouse were a picture book and went under the tablecloth, it would be Afikomen. This time travel adventure unfolds after three children (and one adorable little dog) at a Passover Seder make off with the Afikomen (as Cohen explains in the Author’s Note, this is one Ashkenazi tradition she experienced growing up) and hide under the dining room table.

This engaging and imaginative wordless picture book works wonderfully with its comic-book-style panels that show the children transported back in time to when Moses was a baby. As they emerge from under the table their clothing has changed to fit into their ancient Egyptian surroundings.

Eshet’s illustrations, created with ink and watercolor, pair perfectly with this timeless tale, but in this version, the children are not only there to witness history but contribute to it as well. As we know from the Torah, Pharaoh was killing Israelite boys, so when Moses was born, his mother hid him in a basket she prepared. Cohen’s chosen to have the kids standing in the bullrushes along the Nile River when they first glimpse Miriam and her mother place baby Moses in the basket and send him off.

There is further drama as the basket gets caught in the bullrush and the children have to set it afloat again. Next, they see young Egyptian boys tossing rocks into the river so they distract them with frogs. Adding to the tension of keeping Moses safe is an alligator getting dangerously close to the basket. The children’s noise-making scares the creature away. At one point they wave to Miriam who has been watching the basket from the other side of the river. When the basket stops moving, they take it. Miriam waves back as the children seek the Pharaoh’s daughter who is sitting with her maids and other nobility along the Nile across from them. When the time is right, they set the basket adrift so that it will land near the princess and Moses will forever be protected.

Even though I know the Torah story well, I enjoyed how together Cohen and Eshet have created this moving new dimension to the tale. When their time travel brings them back home, the main characters are tired and the Seder is just about over. Yet, a lovely surprise touch awaits readers as the parents open the Afikomen bag and find something other than the half-broken piece of matzo that readers first see at the beginning of the story. This is a beautiful reimagining of The Finding of Moses tale that will be enjoyed by the entire family giving every reader the opportunity, with their own words, to make the story their own. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Easter Eggs and Matzo Balls cover bunny and boyEASTER EGGS AND MATZO BALLS
Written by Janie Emaus
Illustrated by Bryan Langdo
(Sky Pony Press; $19.99, Ages 3-6)

Every so often the holidays of Easter and Passover overlap as it does in this picture book about a blended family. This dual faith story introduces readers to Michael whose new stepsister, Anna, celebrates Passover. He wants to be sure the Easter Bunny who always visits him includes something special for Anna in the Golden Egg it brings. Incidentally, Michael’s concerns are communicated to the Easter Bunny via texts on an electronic device!

So when Anna cannot find the Passover placemats she likes to color, the Seder plate puzzle she enjoys playing with, or the Afikomen bag used to hide the half piece of matzo during the Seder, she is brought to tears. Even more suspicious is why even the matzo has disappeared. And Aunt Evie says the stores won’t have more for several days. What’s a Seder without looking for the hidden Afikomen? If Michael hasn’t taken the missing Passover items, who has?

Meanwhile, the Easter Bunny is shown in Lando’s humorous illustrations trying to stuff all these unique Passover items into the Golden Egg. Those scenes are complemented by a repeated rhyming phrase “I hopped and wiggled my nose./Push. Pat. Squish. Squash./I can’t get the egg to close.” Michael knew then he had to text the Easter Bunny to make things right. He hopes the Golden Egg will be found during the Easter egg hunt but it eludes him and Anna.

What a lucky surprise then when Michael sits on the piano bench where Grandpa usually hides the Afikomen. Instead, he discovers the Golden Egg with some matzo inside! Now both Michael and Anna can search for the Afikomen together. Back matter includes recipes for chicken soup and matzo balls as well as a glossary of Passover and Easter terms perfect for interfaith families. A colorful and fun read even when the holidays don’t overlap!
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Pirate Passover cover pirate shipPIRATE PASSOVER
Written by Judy Press
Illustrated by Amanda Gulliver
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99 Hardcover, $8.99 Paperback, Ages 3-8)

I adore a jolly good pirate tale and this one’s got rollicking rhyme as well, making for a rewarding Passover read-aloud. Whether ye be one who’s into a swashbuckling sea adventure or one who prefers the landlubber life, Press has covered her bases going from ship to shore in this clever approach to the seder.

The main pirate, Captain Drew, is getting everyone ready for the seder. “They swabbed the wood deck./.They shined the brass rails./They cried out ‘Heave-ho!’ as they raised the ship’s sails.” But as she prepares the seder plate, bad weather not Elijah, makes an appearance.

A terrible storm at sea spells danger. Children will feel the boat rocking as Gulliver’s delightful yet never frightening illustrations convey the power of crashing waves. Matzoh balls rolling off the plank is a whimsical touch. Captain Drew and her crew must abandon ship to seek safe grounds. Once the vessel reaches land, the captain assures her crew she knows what to do. That’s when readers see a house with an open door as if awaiting their arrival. They’re welcomed to a seder where the story of the exodus from Egypt along with all the traditional Passover foods is shared. And rather than ruin this pleasing surprise, I must say here that you’ll never guess who asks the Four Questions, another treat kids will love. As the skies clear, Captain Drew and company bid farewell and return to sea having enjoyed a perfect Passover seder in the company of new friends. Youngsters will feel more than satisfied too at this happy ending.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

An Invitation to Passover cover girl with diverse group of friendsAN INVITATION TO PASSOVER
Written by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen
Illustrated by Mariia Kolker
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

I thoroughly enjoyed this spirited Passover picture book. Its title is a clue to what the story’s about. This year, Hannah’s extended family cannot attend the seder at her house so Hannah asks her parents if she can invite some friends.  Hannah’s parents embrace this great idea along with their daughter who’s keen to make individual invitations that share several meanings of Passover. 

As preparations get underway, Hannah’s mom tells her that Passover is “a celebration of springtime and the hope for new beginnings.” Then she adds that it’s not just about looking forward but reflecting back, to “also remember our history.” That might seem like enough reasons to celebrate but Hannah’s dad chimes in how the holiday is about “freedom for the Israelites and for us today.” It also means eating food everyone loves and that includes matzah ball soup!

I loved how, when Hannah’s diverse group of friends begin arriving, each child brings a special and thoughtful gift based on how they interpreted the invitation. Hannah’s friend Sammy notes how in India spring is celebrated by flying kites so she’s brought one to the seder. Hannah’s pal Ha-Joon brings a beloved Korean dish called kimchi. He explains how the food is a spicy bitter vegetable that not only is a delicious food, but it harkens back to bitter memories of the days when Israelites were enslaved. As guests show up, the illustrations depict the family dog, Mitzi, eyeballing all the food. Kolker’s art also illustrates a beautifully arranged table with a seder plate filled with foods representing various aspects of the Israelites’ struggle to be free. Eventually, Hannah explains Passover to her guests while incorporating their meaningful gifts into the story.

Back matter further includes a glossary as well as details on the how and why of Passover and how remembering our history, freedom, springtime, and great food all play an important role in how we celebrate today. What a terrific book to add to your Jewish holidays library!

Email the publisher for an Activity Guide.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Not Quite Perfect Passover cover brother and sister playingTHE NOT-QUITE-PERFECT PASSOVER
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Not everything works out the way you plan but it can still turn out well. That’s the story behind  Gehl’s picture book The Not-Quite-Perfect Passover, part of the Ruby Celebrates! series that includes other Jewish holiday stories about Hanukkah, Purim, and Rosh Hashanah.

Gehl introduces readers to a family of three: Dad, Ruby, and little brother Benny. They are seated around the kitchen table, with a blue backdrop, eating cereal from bowls in art by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, a husband and wife team with more than one hundred book collaborations.

Dad has good news and bad news and Ruby wants to hear the good news first. They will be hosting their very first seder. The bad news is that Bubbe broke her leg so needs to skip the hosting duties this year. Ruby excitedly begins writing the “to-do” list when little Benny knocks over a glass of milk onto the paper. Ruby sighs.

She tries to cook when Benny drops an egg. She designs hand-written invites, but Benny scribbles all over them. Ruby starts to cry. Ruby waits for Benny to leave the room when Dad tells her that she placed stamps in the left-hand corner of the envelopes and wrote the wrong date. Hmm … It’s not just the little brother that makes mistakes.

Ruby knows Benny is just trying to help when he brings her a stuffed animal. Ruby realizes they may not have the perfect Passover, but what’s more important is that they are able to cheer up Bubbe.

Relatives arrive and soon all are seated for dinner. That’s when Benny, who’s been asked to toss the plastic frogs when the plagues portion of the Haggadah is read, throws out a real frog. It leaps onto the table causing quite a commotion. I’m not sure how a real frog wound up in a basket with plastic frogs, but the family laughs which is all that matters. In fact, Bubbe says they never laughed so much during Passover before. The sweet moments shared between the siblings in these scenes are quite endearing.

The back matter explains the spring holiday and how it commemorates the Exodus, which is when the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt. This is another great Passover read that shows kids it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s a lovely reminder that the importance of the holiday is being together no matter what’s going on in your home or the world. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Under-the-Sea Seder cover girl celebrating with underwater creaturesUNDER-THE-SEA SEDER
Written and illustrated by Ann D. Kofsky
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 5-8)

The Passover seder is considered a time to sit still, but that’s a big ask for Miri, who, along with her cat Abby, imagines a more playful seder while hiding under the dining room table in Ann D. Koffsky’s latest picture book Under-The-Sea-Seder. 

Miri has ‘shpilkes’ (lots of energy in Yiddish) and is bored during the reading of the Haggadah. This alone should resonate with young readers. She munches loudly on the matzah, spins in her seat, and raps using a kiddish cup as her microphone. Abby the cat sees no problem with her behavior but her mom and dad are not happy with the distraction.

Koffsky uses a combination of digital and traditional tools to create charming art depicting the family gathered around the table and the white tablecloth with a fish print design. It’s that fish print design that sparks Miri’s titular adventure.. At first, a single fish appears swimming out of the cloth and then the reader sees the seder sub. “Let’s go for a ride!” says Miri.

Miri steers her way through the story swimming alongside Abby— who only wants someone to give her snacks—and around her imaginary seder table with yellow and pink smiling sea monsters. “Why is this night different than all other nights?” Can you guess the answer? “On this night there are three sea monsters.”

The story concludes when Mom and Dad call her out of her fantasy and back into reality, asking her to sing seder songs. And for that, she is able to be loud and have fun!

Koffsky gives great suggestions in the back matter on ways to act, sing, move, and play during the Passover seder. There are fun ideas for families to introduce to this year’s seder, and traditions that can be repeated year after year no matter how old you get. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Best New Hanukkah Books for Children and Teens 2022

 

BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS

~A ROUNDUP~

 

 

I’m happy to say this year I’ve received more review copies of new Hanukkah books for children than any previous year! Not only do these books approach the holiday from fresh new angles, but they’ve made the holiday more accessible for non-Jewish readers who want to learn about this joyful Jewish celebration. Enjoy the super selection and be sure to share these books with family and friends.

 

 

HANUKKAH NHanukkah Nights cover menorah picture child sleepingIGHTS
Written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $8.99, Ages 1-5)

I had a huge grin on my face as I read this beautiful board book because while the concept is so simple, it is gorgeously executed and a treat to read. Using bold black as the background like one of those scratch-away kits, Hoffman has cleverly employed a variety of techniques to depict the candle flames. These include drip, scrape, stamp, crisscross, sponge, spatter, doodle and brush. She shares a brief rhyming description along with a new color for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. A different night equals a different spread and flame style.
“1 light. Special night.”

“2 lights. Happy nights.”

Spare, stunning, and VERY shareable!  I hope your children love this as much as I did. If they feel inspired to reproduce the designs using the back matter spread, Hoffman describes how to achieve the looks so be sure to have plenty of Kraft paper available this Hanukkah.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

MENDEL’S HANUKKAH MESS UP
Written by Chana and Larry Stiefel
Illustrated by Daphna Awadish
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Star Review – School Library Journal

Things never seem to go as planned for Mendel despite loving the Hanukkah holiday. What can be botched up does get botched up. He’s kind of a mash-up of Amelia Bedelia and The Chelm stories. With this top of mind,  Mendel takes a back seat so to speak, and keeps out of harm’s way until his trusting Rabbi asks him to drive the Mitzvah Mobile. His job: spread the word about the big Hanukkah bash and perform “the greatest good deed of the holidaysharing the miracles of Hanukkah for all to see!”

Mendel manages quite well to start with and he’s overjoyed at his success. With his spirits soaring, he doesn’t see the bridge overpass and smashes the menorah, much to his dismay. “Oy! I’m stuck!” Mendel’s disappointment is palpable in a mix of humorous and meaningful text alongside charming and lively illustrations. Even though the police and the tow truck arrive on the scene, it is the reporter from the local news who gives Mendel a powerful platform. On the spot, he draws inspiration from his Rabbi’s words and explains the miracle of Hanukkah and how “we each have a spark to light up the world.” And miraculously, as the damaged truck is towed away, the lights from the menorah glow brightly. Back at his synagogue, Mendel’s congregation is exuberant and when he gets invited to light the giant menorah at City Hall, you can just imagine who at last feels proudest of all! If you’re looking for a timeless tale sure to bring smiles to the entire family, Mendel’s Hanukkah Mess Up delivers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel 

 

Ava's Homemade Hanukkah cover girl making menorahAVA’S HOMEMADE HANUKKAH
Written by Geraldine Woberg
Illustrated by Julia Seal
(Albert Whitman & Co; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

In this unique artistic story that gave me ideas for making my own menorah, readers are introduced to a family whose tradition is to create their own menorahs each year. These aren’t just any menorahs. They are menorahs that say something important about each person. This year Ava is old enough to join in the fun, but she worries her ideas won’t measure up to the others.

As the story begins, Ava tells her pet rabbit, Maccabee, named after the brave Maccabees and the oil that lasted eight nights, why Hanukkah is celebrated, and how the bunny got its name. Lined up on the table is a tin Hanukkah menorah that Ava’s mom was given by the army during her first Hanukkah away from home. Pop-Pop’s Hanukkah menorah has corks that float in jars of oil that he cherishes because he is proud that his traditions were different from his childhood friends. Author Woberg takes the reader through each family member’s story, while Seal’s warm illustrations show Ava and Maccabee listening.

The brown-haired pig-tailed girl gathers floor tile, green wire from flowers worn in her hair, and a small twig that fell from her special tree, all to be used for her menorah. She even gathers a friendship pin given to her by a friend. And the best item to be placed on her menorah is the toy rabbit resembling Maccabee. The menorah is complete when Ava uses markers to write the letters of her Hebrew name.

This is a great story to read to children at home or at religious school before beginning their own menorah creation. What a wonderful project for kids and a lovely tradition to begin! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Hanukkah in Little Havana cover with kids on car tripHANUKKAH IN LITTLE HAVANA
Written by Julie Anna Blank
Illustrated by Carlos Velez Aguilera
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99; Ages 4-9)

A young girl narrator explains how each December a crate of fresh-picked oranges, plucked from her grandparents’ Miami backyard, is usually delivered as a Hanukkah gift to her family’s Maryland home. But this year no box arrives. Then, out of nowhere at midnight one December day, the girl and her younger sister are roused from their sleep by their parents in another strange occurrence. The sisters are tired and confused as they are placed in the backseat of the family car with their sweet dog and cat alongside them. When they wake at dawn to unfamiliar road signs and radio ads “Chile Today, Hot Tamale!” they wonder: Are they awake or dreaming? But their parents’ “laughing eyes” hold the exciting clue.

Julie Anna Blank’s first picture book takes the reader on an enjoyable Hanukkah journey to Miami’s Little Havana where the girls happily pick grapefruit, tangerines, and oranges with sun-kissed grandparents, Nonna and Nonno. Carlos Velez Aguilera’s colorful illustrations depict happy faces dancing the salsa and grating potatoes for homemade latkes. The parents’ surprise trip definitely replaced the sadness of not receiving the box of fruit, and the surprise was made better when they were able to spend it with the whole family.

This original take on the Hanukkah story teaches kids about almendrikas pastries and browned bunuelos. The smiles on the family’s faces beautifully depict the happiness of eight days of light and love. The back glossary breaks down the Spanish words. Bunuelo is a fried pastry and is a Hanukkah treat in South America and the Caribbean. Almendrikas is a little almond in Ladino. It was a fun read to learn about the diversity of the Jewish holiday and how it is celebrated with foods from different cultures. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 The Boston Chocolate Party cover children at HarborTHE BOSTON CHOCOLATE PARTY
Written by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
Illustrated by Fede Combi
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 5-8)

I adore historical fiction stories where I can learn something new and The Boston Chocolate Party is no exception. Not only does this story illustrate how hot chocolate became popular in America, but it also introduces readers to the Sephardim. These were Jews who fled persecution in Spain and Portugal and came to America via the Netherlands. Many settled in New York and in Newport, Rhode Island where they found religious freedom.

This interesting Hanukkah (or Janucá in Spanish) story introduces readers to Joshua and his father, a wealthy merchant. They await his father’s ship transporting chocolate beans that will be turned into hot cocoa. With the British taxing tea and making it unaffordable, hot chocolate will become a popular and affordable alternative. Meanwhile, at home, on the first night of Hanukkah, Joshua is missing his best friend Isaac. The lad’s mom, now a widow, has relocated the family to Boston to seek work. The artwork is richly detailed and helps bring this story to life. I especially liked Combi’s depictions of the old oil menorahs both Joshua and Isaac’s families had. The scenes of chocolate making and old Boston beautifully conveyed the era when the story took place.

Joseph’s father has plans to send his assistant to Boston with a bag of beans. “He’ll show shopkeepers how to make delicious
hot chocolate and let them taste it for themselves.” Of course, Joshua wants to go to visit Isaac, but his father lets him send a letter instead. Readers get a glimpse the next day of Joshua’s family making chocolate to be stored for the winter. Then the assistant returns with word that the chocolate was a hit. Joshua’s father must now go to Boston “with a supply of beans and chocolate-making tools.” Once again Joshua asks to accompany his father and, with support from his mother, gets the go-ahead. Father and son will travel to Boston and spend the final few nights of Hanukkah with Isaac and his family.

After celebrating Janucá with Isaac’s family and realizing their dire financial predicament, Joshua proposes that a shed outside could be turned into a chocolate house where locals could sample the delicious chocolate. As everyone prepares for opening day, another party is just getting underway— the Boston Tea Party. Angry colonists dump tea into Boston Harbor to protest the high taxes levied by the British. This historic event, we learn in back matter, occurred on the last night of Hanukkah, December 16, 1773. The significance of the Boston Tea Party taking place on the last night of Hanukkah brings to mind the fight for freedom centuries before by the brave Maccabees. Info about What Was the Boston Tea Party?, What Is Hanukkah?, Who Were America’s First Jews?, and two recipes shared in the back matter should not be missed. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Eight Nights of Flirting cover couple in snowEIGHT NIGHTS OF FLIRTING
by Hannah Reynolds
(Razorbill; $19.99, Ages 12 and up)

Star Review – School Library Journal

You definitely do not have to be Jewish to enjoy this irresistible young adult rom-com set in a snowy Nantucket during winter break. The main character, 16-year-old Shira Barbanel, is determined to make her great uncle’s assistant, Isaac Lehrer, her boyfriend. The only problem is she has no experience and is convinced everything, even kissing, requires practice. But how to get it?

Adding to the frustration of her novice status in the romance department, Shira and her ex-crush, dreamy Tyler Nelson, also on the island, are thrown together during a snowstorm. This sets the titular eight nights of flirting in motion when in exchange for giving shelter to Tyler at her grandparents’ Golden Doors estate, Shira makes a bargain with him: flirting lessons for her from Mr. Popularity in exchange for an introduction to her media mogul great uncle for him.

Not only do romantic tensions run high between Tyler and Shira as she begins to learn what it takes to win a heart, but Shira also gets more than a glimpse of the real Tyler Nelson. Turns out he’s not just the blonde hair, blue-eyed pretty boy she thought was so shallow. As their friendship develops, they find a box hidden under a loose attic floorboard that may be a clue to a Barbanel ancestor’s secret passion.

With Tyler seeming to be more of a hook-up type of guy and Shira looking for something more committed, can Isaac fit the bill? Or was he someone she pursued for all the wrong reasons? When at last Shira realizes that being true to herself attracts friends and makes a former foe fall for her, readers will feel as happy as the new couple. Engaging and visually rich, Eight Nights of Flirting—I can easily see this as a filmwill lift your spirits and warm your heart on even the coldest winter nights so grab a hot cocoa and indulge. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Hanukkah

J is for Januca coverJ IS FOR JANUCÁ
Written by Melanie Romero
Illustrated by Cassie Gonzales
(Baby Lit/Lil’ Libros; $19.99, Ages 4-10)

From the Publisher:

Introduce your little ones to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or Janucá, and how illuminated candles remind us of miracles!

Grab your dreidels and start frying your latkes – the Festival of Lights is fast approaching!

This alphabetical hardcover delves into each letter of the Spanish alphabet to bring to life the many items – from aceite and bendiciones to kugel and tierra – that shed light on the miracle of Hanukkah. Observe families lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel, hearing the Hanukkah story, and indulging in latkes and sufganiyot for eight precious nights.

This holiday hardcover is Cassie Gonzales’s debut as a children’s book illustrator; her colorful illustrations honor the palette and importance of Hanukkah. Parents will appreciate this bilingual English-Spanish hardcover due to the celebration of Hanukkah, but also for the cultural, religious, and historical symbolism behind the Jewish holiday that occurs around the same season as Christmas and holds a special meaning in the multicultural Latin-Jewish community.

 

 Ruby Celebrates! The Hanukkah Hunt coverRUBY CELEBRATES! THE HANUKKAH HUNT
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

From the Publisher:

Ruby and her family celebrate Hanukkah in a brand-new way.

Ruby’s cousin Avital is sad because her mom is going to be away on a work trip during Hanukkah. To help make sure Avital still has a happy holiday, Ruby plans an enormous eight-night treasure hunt. But will she be able to think up a good enough surprise for Avital to discover on the final night?

 

Tizzy the Dizzy Dreidel cover spinning dreidel on keyboardTIZZY THE DIZZY DREIDEL  
Written by Allison Marks and Wayne Marks 
Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli 
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99, Ages 4-9)

From the Publisher:

Tizzy the dreidel has a problem. Spinning makes her dizzy. But with encouragement from a little girl, Tizzy bravely sets out on an eight-day spinning Hanukkah adventure all around the house!

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery

MEET THE HAMANTASCHEN:
A Purim Mystery

Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg

(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Meet the Hamantaschen cover

 

 

This year Purim begins on the evening of March 16.

Just in time for the Jewish holiday, author and illustrator Alan Silberberg is back with Meet the Hamantaschen another funny companion picture book to his previous two holiday-themed hits, Meet the Matzah and Meet the Latkes.

It’s great to have a fresh take on Purim, the holiday that celebrates the cleverness and bravery of Queen Esther who, as the bride of powerful King Ahasuerus in a place called Shushan, hid that she was Jewish. When Haman, a trusted advisor of the king, and embodiment of evil, “…convinced the king that all of the Jewish people of Shushan should be eliminated,” Esther, aided by her uncle Mordecai, hatched a plan to save her people.

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int1
Interior art from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

Rather than simply reenact the story on stage, something that many synagogues do when members perform the Purim play or spiel, Silberberg’s introduced a trio of die-hard hamantaschen detectives to bring the story to life on the page. For those unfamiliar with hamantaschen, they are triangular-shaped, filled pastries resembling the three-cornered hat worn by bad guy Haman. The story unfolds in film noir-style with the detectives being summoned by a mysterious stranger. Their mission: find the missing megillah. The megillah, chanted during the Purim play, is known as The Book of Esther and recounts the story that is performed. Without it “… no Purim play!”

Silberberg’s humor shines when the detectives disguise themselves to interrogate the cast of the Purim play, their likely suspects. The cake, the cookbook and the cactus waste no time in getting down to business, with puns, alliteration, and general silliness. And though weeding out the culprit may seem like it’s serious stuff, seeing a bunch of hamantaschen seeking answers can only mean one thing for children. FUN!

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int2
Interior spread from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

As the investigation continues, the trio begins piecing Purim clues together, true and false allowing the play to go off without a hitch. But the missing megillah has still not materialized. Will it ever be found? Well, that’s one clue this mystery fan is not giving away.

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int3
Interior spread from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

Throughout the book, the artwork, drawn and painted digitally, is bold, whimsical, full of visual jokes, zany characters, and extra-large speech bubbles, all adding to the enjoyment of Meet the Hamantaschen. One of my favorite characters is Barry who plays the part of Haman. His mustache is perfect and reminds me of old-time villains. In the back matter there’s a Purim Glossary to help explain some terminology. A real positive about this picture book is that even children who are not Jewish will learn about Purim and get caught up in the excitement of the sleuthing. Best read with a side of hamantaschen and a grogger in hand!

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Our Favorite New Hanukkah Books for 2021

 

NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR 2021
∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

Hanukkah menorah clipart

 

 

Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! coverBABY LOVES ANGULAR MOMENTUM ON HANUKKAH!
Written by Ruth Spiro
Illustrated by Irene Chan
(Charlesbridge; $8.99, Ages  0-3)

The popular Baby Loves Science board book series has notched up over 15  titles in the collection touching on myriad STEM subjects from quarks to coding. In Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! little ones are introduced to the holiday, and in particular, the dreidel or spinning top game played by Jewish families around the world. Using the dreidel, Spiro presents the fascinating physics’ concepts of torque (what makes a dreidel spin), angular momentum (spinning rather than falling over), friction (what slows down the dreidel), and gravity (what makes a slowing dreidel tilt, wobble and eventually fall down). The best part is how the dreidel game ties everything together. There’s even the added element of learning the Hebrew letters on the dreidel, Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Shin which also represent the words “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Chan’s bold, cheerful illustrations will engage children even if they don’t necessarily grasp the info. To be honest, learning this topic via a board book is about my speed and I’m sure there are other parents out there who’ll feel the same. The book provides a great way to start science conversations for curious minds constantly asking, “Why?”

The Three Latkes coverTHE THREE LATKES
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Feronia Parker-Thomas
(Kar-Ben; $7.99, Ages 4-8)

Award-winning author and storyteller, Eric A. Kimmel has created a simple and simply funny Hanukkah tale about three potato pancakes, one red, one yellow, and one gold, competing to see who is the best. Is it the type of potato they are, the kind of oil they’re fried in, or the type of topping they’re dipped in?  But what neither the lip-licking cat they ask to judge nor the latkes themselves never consider is exactly what that judging entails. Does the feline have a fave? I’m not going to spoil things except to say that I loved the surprise ending The Three Latkes delivers to readers who, if like me, were already tempted to dive into this book because of the cat and latkes on the cover. Kimmel consistently writes engaging books for the Jewish community and this one is no exception. Parker-Thomas’s art, achieved with lots of line work and playful details, is full of movement, expression, and warm tones.  Why not read this Hanukkah story aloud and have family members each play a role to add more fun to the story experience?

A RUGRATS CHANUKAH (POP CLASSIC)
Based on the series created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, and Paul Germain

and the episode “A Rugrats Chanukah” written by J. David Stem and David N. Weiss
Illustrated by Kim Smith
(Quirk Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8) 

“In time for the Rugrats’ 30th anniversary, and 25th anniversary of the beloved Chanukah Special” comes a picture book version sure to be a hit with the whole family. And I for one could not be happier being reminded of the first time I watched the episode, then several years later sharing it with my children. Even if you never saw the special, A Rugrats Chanukah brings the entertainment to you in a 40 -page larger format picture book with illustrations by Kim Smith that make it feel as if you’ve stepped inside the original program and are watching like a fly on the wall.

Unfamiliar with the story? The story starts with funny endpapers that introduce readers to the main characters as a menorah sits atop a TV set. The Rugrats (Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil, and Angelica) are at Tommy’s house and his mom is preparing the latkes. Meanwhile, Grandma Minka reads the little ones a story about Hanukkah (Chanukah in this book) where they learn about the bravery of Judah Maccabee. Here’s where one of my favorite lines appears. “A Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do!” But Grandma Minka doesn’t finish the story and the babies speculate what all the activity going on at Tommy’s house, thinking it has something to do with birthdays. That’s when Tommy is close to blowing out the candles when Angelica stops him. 

Everyone heads to the synagogue to see Tommy’s Grandpa Boris in a play about the meaning of Chanukah only the Rugrats mishear and think the play is about “The meany of Chanukah!” The babies decide they must help Grandpa Boris and save him from the meany. The funny misunderstanding is further exacerbated when the meany accidentally collides with Angelica and makes her cry. Now the babies must put their plan into actiongetting the meany to fall asleep by reading them the Chanukah story. Will the Rugrats succeed? Like the miracle of Chanukah itself, the babies end up lighting the way and bringing everyone together in a heartfelt ending that is as warm and comforting as latkes with applesauce!


THE GOLDEN DREIDEL
Written by Ellen Kushner
Illustrated by Kevin Keele
(Charlesbridge; $15.99, Ages 7-10)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

This chapter book is a fast, entertaining Hanukkah read that feels more geared toward the younger readers in its category. Kushner blends fantasy and adventure with contemporary elements after introducing us to the main character, Sara, and her big extended family.

When the story opens Sara is admiring all the Christmasy decorations in her neighborhood. She’d love a tree, too, but her mom explains that Jews don’t have Christmas trees. Sara simply is not convinced that Hanukkah (Chanukah in this book) is anything special. “Why can’t we just have the same stuff as everyone else for once?” 

Sara, her mom, and her annoying older (though not by much) brother, Seth, are off to Aunt Leah’s house for a sleepover Chanukah party which neither sibling is keen to attend. Along with their cousins, Sara and Seth play dreidel, a game Sara finds boring, a foreshadowing of what’s to come. The party is in full swing when mysterious Tante Miriam shows up out of the blue and with more foreshadowing says, “It’s been some trip! Deserts, mountains, rivers . . . I crossed the Red Sea with all the rest. On the shore I danced, and then I sang and beat my drum and tambourine. . . . And then I collected a few things—you know, for the children.” From her immense satchel, Tante Miriam pulls out presents for the children. Sara, the last to get a gift, receives an oversized golden dreidel much to her displeasure. Before long, she and Seth are fighting over it when she accidentally throws it at the large plasma TV, shattering it. While Sara is to blame, all the kids get sent to bed.

Unable to sleep, Sara heads downstairs where she is distracted by a glowing light near the TV. That’s when she is transported through the cracked TV to a fantastical land by a girl with “crazy golden hair and sparkling eyes” who is totally into spinning. It turns out Tante Miriam’s dreidel gift is actually this very girl or Dreidel Princess, daughter of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Once through the portal, it doesn’t take long for the Dreidel Princess to be kidnapped by demons who have escaped Solomon’s Cave. In this spin on The Nutcracker, rather than waging battle against an evil Mouse King, Sara finds herself needing to fight the Demon King, Ashmedai, to rescue the princess he has captured upon her return from Sara’s world. On her colorful journey to find the Dreidel Princess, Sara meets several interesting characters including the Queen of Sheba (my favorite of all the black and white illustrations). But ultimately it’s the Fool with his repertoire of riddles who provides the most help finding and then taking on the challenge the Demon King poses. Illustrator Keele has drawn the Fool aptly with wild hair, a sock as his hat, and a tie around his waist.

As the Dreidel Princess, this young girl possesses the power of the Tree of Life that her father, King Solomon transferred to her for protection. That power needs to be returned to the tree. Luck has it that the Demon King will let Sara and the Fool have the Princess back if they agree to play the Riddle Game. Readers, who have learned some riddles during Sara’s quest, will be happy to see Sara’s quick thinking stymie the opposition in order to free the Princess. After proving herself worthy of King Solomon’s praise, Sara asks him to help her right some wrongs. Now back at Aunt Leah’s, Sara awakens to a fresh new day with an enlightened perspective on Jewish history, dreidels, and likely will no longer balk at celebrating Hanukkah traditions in the future. Kushner’s book is an engaging read for kids not yet ready for longer middle-grade novels but eager for a satisfying holiday adventure.

 

Click here for last year’s Hanukkah roundup.

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New Passover Picture Books for Kids 2021

 

NEW PASSOVER PICTURE BOOKS

FOR KIDS

 

 

What I love about Passover is the tradition, the same old same old I know and love. It’s comforting as well as delicious. And, since Seder, the meal we enjoy, means “order” in Hebrew, we repeat the same rituals Jewish people have done for centuries to feel a connection to the past. Here are a few new Passover picture books plus a link to a fourth (an interview) to share with your children this year and for years to come.

 

Meet the Matzah cvr Passover Picture_BooksMEET THE MATZAH
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Fans of Meet the Latkes, get ready for a wild and whimsical ride! This follow-up picture book promises to bring smiles to young readers with its tale of Alfie Koman, a piece of matzah known to hide, who needs to unmuddle the sourdough bully Loaf’s version of the Passover Story. Who enslaved the Hebrews according to Loaf? Pha-roach! With the help of his braided bff, Challa Looyah, Alfie must emerge from undercover to set the record straight. The hilarious artwork is what I’d call the butter on the matzah. It just doesn’t get funnier than this! Don’t miss the adorable book trailer here.

 

MATAZH CRAZE
Written by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh
Illustrated by Lauren Gallegos
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $17.99 HC, $7.99 PB, Ages 4-9)

Matzah Craze is a great introduction to matzah and its history for anyone who is unfamiliar with it and the tradition of not eating bread during Passover.

This fast-paced rhyming read opens at lunchtime when everyone in the school cafeteria swaps food except for Noa. You’ll want to slow down to enjoy the Gallegos’s lively art and diverse student body. On this day Noa’s got food in her lunch bag no one recognizes and she doesn’t have enough to share. “All week long, I don’t eat bread. Matzah’s what I eat instead,” she tells her friends.

She then explains how the Jews fled Pharaoh’s oppression with no time in the rush to escape for bread to rise. As her friends walk away, Noa wonders. “Is there more that she could do? Let them taste Passover too?” When she brings in enough matzah to share with her friends the following day, with an assortment of toppings, its popularity causes a matzah craze.

Eating matzah is always a fun part of the holiday. I’m a big fan of chocolate-covered matzah as well as matzah spread with haroset. This food made with fruit and nuts symbolizes the mortar used by slaves in Egypt. I hope anyone reading Matzah Craze will experiment with all the delicious ways to enjoy matzah just like Noa’s friends. There’s also a note in the back matter explaining a bit more about the Passover holiday. Families and teachers will find this picture book helpful to discuss sharing, introducing a new food and its cultural and religious importance to those unfamiliar with it, as well as an enjoyable holiday read-aloud.

 

THE GREAT PASSOVER ESCAPE
Written by Pamela Moritz
Illustrated by Florence Weiser
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $17.99 HC, $7.99 PB, Ages 4-9)

Whenever my husband and I went on vacation we always took the kids to a zoo so I was happy to be introduced to the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, aka the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo where this story unfolds.

Ellie the beautiful purple elephant would like to find a family to celebrate the first night of Passover with and she can count on her friend, Kang, the Kangaroo, to join her. Chimp, on the other hand, is not keen on this risky adventure and would prefer to sleep.

Every time Ellie or Kang discuss the seder they’d like to attend, they get all the words wrong and Chimp is quick to correct them which is something children will enjoy. Ellie calls the Haggadah a coloring book. Kang calls it a notebook until Chimp sets them straight. The eager pair plan their escape for the following evening. It seems Zookeeper Shmulik, who cleans Ellie’s habitat, has told her all about Passover and one part especially appeals to her, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”

Naturally to escape the pals will need the help and agility of Chimp who is pretty easy to convince. Once out of the confines of the zoo, Ellie, Kang, and Chimp stroll through the neighborhood in search of a seder. When eventually the animals peek in a well-lit window, they see a beautifully set table and are surprised to discover who the welcoming host is.

I admire Weiser’s atmospheric artwork with people in shadow at nighttime, as well as her lovely color palette perfect for Israel’s warm climate. There’s a fun, retro look to the illustrations that add to the playfulness of Moritz’s story.

I had a smile on my face while reading this entertaining book because it was not only such a sweet animal tale, but it was gently educational without hitting readers over the head. While it does help to have some understanding of the Jewish holiday Passover, readers will still learn about certain Passover words like seder, the traditional meal, some of the foods on the seder plate such as haroset and maror, and what they symbolize as well as the story of how Passover came to be. Back matter goes into more detail about the Passover holiday and also includes photos of the real Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

 

Don’t miss Ronna’s interview below with debut picture book author Susan Kusel about her soon-to-be classic, The Passover Guest.

 

The Passover Guest – An Interview with Author Susan Kusel (goodreadswithronna.com)

 

 

 

 

 

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An Interview with The Passover Guest Author Susan Kusel

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR SUSAN KUSEL

ABOUT HER DEBUT PICTURE BOOK

THE PASSOVER GUEST

(Neal Porter Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

The Passover Guest cover

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SHORT SUMMARY:

In The Passover Guest, written by Susan Kusel and illustrated by Sean Rubin, Muriel assumes her family is too poor to hold a Passover Seder this year, but an act of kindness and a mysterious magician change everything.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: Welcome, Susan! Congratulations on your debut picture book, The Passover Guest!

Susan Kusel: Thank you so much for having me here! I am honored to be on this blog

GRWR:  How does it feel as a synagogue librarian and indie bookstore book buyer to know your new book,
The Passover Guest, has landed on shelves? 

SK: It’s an absolutely surreal feeling to know that my book has a spot in some of my favorite libraries and bookstores. I am humbled by the idea of a child pulling it off the shelf and reading it.

GRWR: When did the seed to become a storyteller first plant itself in your soul? Can you recall the first books that sparked your imagination? 

SK: I’ve wanted to be a writer for so long, it’s hard to remember the exact moment I started. I do remember the first time I ever wrote a complete book though. It was for a 5th grade English assignment and was about a Russian Jewish girl named Rachel. I remember being very proud of the special folder I put the book into.

My mom used to read to me every night when I was a child and some of my favorite books then were Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry, Walter the Baker by Eric Carle, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and of course, The Magician by I.L. Peretz, adapted by Uri Shulevitz.

 

The Passover Guest int1
Interior spread from The Passover Guest, A Neal Porter Book/Holiday House © 2021. Text copyright © 2021 by Susan Kusel Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Sean Rubin

 

GRWR: What inspired you to write The Passover Guest as a retelling of the classic I. L. Peretz’s story adapted by Uri Shulevitz in 1973 rather than create a new tale? 

SK: As I mentioned above, The Magician was in regular reading rotation by my mother when I was younger and so it’s a story I’ve been in love with for a long time. When I rediscovered the book in a library as an adult, I still thought it was an amazing story, but I noticed some plot elements that I wished were different. That started me down the path of doing an adaptation of Peretz’s story, a process that took about ten years.

GRWR: Aside from setting the story in 1933 Depression-era D.C. are there any other notable changes you wanted to make for 21st-century young readers? 

SK: The most significant change I made was adding the character of Muriel. In the Peretz version, the story is about a couple but I thought that it was very important to add a child character. There are also a number of subtle changes I added, such as Muriel putting a penny in the Magician’s hat, the rabbi coming to Muriel’s seder, the whole community filling the house, the matzah breaking itself in two, and several smaller plot points. My goal was to stay true to Peretz’s message while making the story my own.

GRWR: What were your go-to Jewish holiday books growing up and right now? Do you have a collection? 

SK: Jewish stories have always been very important to me, but when I was growing up, we owned very few. Our whole book collection, which took up half a shelf in my brother’s closet, was primarily obtained from library book sales. We supplemented these with library books. I only had a few Jewish books including The Power of Light by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Potato Pancakes All Around by Marilyn Hirsh (which we used then, and I still use now for the latke recipe).

As for now, I am typing this while sitting in my home library surrounded by picture books, including several shelves just for Jewish books. Current favorites include Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel (no holiday list is complete without it!), I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz, The Matzah Papa Brought Home by Fran Manushkin (sadly out of print but still extraordinary), and Here is the World by Lesléa Newman. That’s really just a small sample though because there are so many Jewish holiday books I love.

GRWR: Has your experience on the Caldecott Medal selection committee or as chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee influenced your writing in any way? 

SK: One of the most common pieces of advice given to writers is to read extensively in your field. I think those committees, as well as others I’ve been on, have certainly helped me with that. When you are reading hundreds and hundreds of books in a genre, it does give you a better sense of what is currently published. Being on so many committees has helped me see what the conventions are, and how they can be broken and how I can be a better writer.

GRWR: Sean Rubin’s art is as magical as your prose and the mysterious guest himself. Do you have a particular favorite spread from the book you can tell us about? 

SK: I think Sean did a truly extraordinary job on the illustrations and picking just one of them is like trying to pick a favorite child. I think his work adds so much to the book and makes it complete.

I could easily go on at length about every individual spread and how much I love it, but if I can only pick one, it would be when Muriel goes to the synagogue to consult the rabbi. Over the course of one continuous spread, Sean shows us four completely separate and distinct scenes and the cause and effect of each one of them. And all of this against the astonishingly beautiful and majestic background of the Sixth and I Synagogue, a D.C. Jewish landmark. 

GRWR: Early on in The Passover Guest Muriel meets an unusual street performer to whom she gives her last penny. Can you speak to the story idea of magic and how, especially in tough times, this kind of belief can help people? 

SK: I think it’s always a good time to believe in the possibility of magic, especially during difficult times. You never know who that bedraggled stranger might turn out to be. Faith and hope are so important.

 

The Passover Guest int2
Interior spread from The Passover Guest, A Neal Porter Book/Holiday House © 2021. Text copyright © 2021 by Susan Kusel Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Sean Rubin

 

GRWR: Where do you find the time to write with all your other commitments? Do you have a daily routine? 

SK: I’d love to be able to say that I sit down in the same place at the same time every day and write for the same amount of time. But the truth, as you alluded to in this question, is that I have multiple jobs, commitments, and children, and I do my best to write as much as I can when I can.

GRWR: You mentioned in your author’s note that Passover has always been your favorite holiday, can you tell us why? 

SK: I love so many things about Passover: the coming of spring, getting the seder plate ready, singing songs, finding the afikomen, eating too much charoset, being with family, and much more. It’s always been a magical holiday for me and I’m delighted that this book lets me share some of that magic.

GRWR: Are you working on your next book? Will it have a Jewish theme? 

SK: I’m working on several next books, all with Jewish themes. I have a real commitment to telling Jewish stories.

GRWR: It’s been wonderful having you as a guest here today, Susan! I really appreciate your thoughtful replies and am looking forward to sharing a review of your book when we get closer to Passover.

Author Susan KuselBRIEF BIO:

Susan Kusel has turned a life as a book lover into many careers as an author, librarian, and buyer for a bookstore. She has served on many book award committees including the Caldecott Medal and the Sydney Taylor Book Award. She loves biking, cross-stitching, and of course, reading. Learn more about Susan on her website and by following her on social media.

Twitter: @susankusel
Instagram: @susanhkusel
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Click here to read another picture book author interview.

 

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Kids’ Board Book Review – Happy Birthday, Trees!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREES!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber

Illustrated by Holly Sterling

(Kar-Ben Publishing; $7.99, Ages 1-4)

 

Happy Birthday Trees cover

 

Happy Birthday, Trees!, written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber and illustrated by Holly Sterling, is a 12-page board book that just exudes joy and one I can easily recommend for the annual holiday of Tu B’Shevat, a Jewish Arbor Day. Tu B’Shevat or Tu BiShevat has, over the years, grown to become a celebration of nature and the environment and a time to reflect on the importance of trees since we are their only caretakers. This year, the holiday begins on the evening of January 27 and ends the following night.

In this charming rhyming board book, three diverse children go through all the steps of planting a tree with a soothing repetition that reinforces the progression of the actions. First, they dig a hole. Then they carefully place the tree in the hole and, after a few other important steps, the youngsters watch the tree as it grows and changes through the seasons.

 

Happy Birthday Trees spread
Interior spread from Happy Birthday, Trees! written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber and illustrated by Holly Sterling, Kar-Ben Publishing ©2020.

 

I love how Rostoker-Gruber, in such a short story, has managed to convey not only the pleasure of the planting process but the complete cycle a tree experiences. Sterling’s cheerful illustrations full of movement and expression show readers how, in the year following the initial planting, the tree ultimately blossoms, spreading its perfume for all to enjoy. Happy Birthday, Trees! is truly a Tu B’Shevat treet!

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for a Happy Birthday, Trees! Teaching Guide.

Click here to read a review of another Jewish holiday book.

 

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Best Hanukkah Picture Books 2020!

 

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS

FOR HANUKKAH 2020

-A ROUNDUP-

 

 

 

HappyLlamakkah coverHAPPY LLAMAKKAH!
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Lydia Nichols
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 3-5)

In the colorful picture book, Happy Llamakkah!, adorable llamas young and old gather together for the eight-day Jewish celebration. Each night a new candle is lit by the shamash (helper candle) as dreidels spin, latkes are fried and ribbons are tied. The story is told with few words and many sweet faces of the llama family who end each of the eight nights saying Happy Llamakkah! Children familiar with Hanukkah will enjoy seeing the candle lighting as it reminds them of their own special Hanukkah traditions with every page turn. And the words “Happy Llamakkah” replacing the traditional Happy Hanukkah wish just adds laughter and fun for young readers. I personally laughed each time I read those words. This rhyming picture book closes with an Author’s Note which explains in simple terms why Jewish people celebrate the miracle that happened long ago. Happy Llamakkah! beautifully tells the story of the menorah in the window; and I liked how the reader learns that it was only recently that Jewish families incorporated gifts as part of their Hanukkah festivities. Happy Hanukkah!
• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

NINTHNIGHTOFHANUKKAH cvrTHE NINTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH
Written by Erica S. Perl
Illustrated by Shahar Kober
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3+)

In The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Max and Rachel’s family move to a new apartment right before Hanukkah begins. So it’s frustrating when they can’t find the box that was packed with all the items they need for Hanukkah: the menorah, candles, Dad’s lucky latke pan, dreidels, gelt, and jelly donut recipe. So how can they celebrate Hanukkah? With help from their new neighbors and a bit of innovative, creative thinking, they try each night to celebrate, although as the refrain says, “It was nice . . . but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” But when Mom’s guitar is delivered the morning after the eighth night, the kids come up with a way to still celebrate the holiday and give back to all their new neighbors who helped them. . . and when the missing Hanukkah box turns up, it finally feels like Hanukkah. Charming cartoon illustrations add to the warmth of this holiday book about a diverse and multi-ethnic community coming together in friendship. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

TheEightKnightsofHanukkah cvrTHE EIGHT KNIGHTS OF HANUKKAH
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Galia Bernstein
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I had a smile on my face throughout my first reading of this clever new take on Hanukkah and again the second time to write this review. Kimmelman’s wordplay in The Eight Knights of Hanukkah makes for a fun Round Table themed romp that delivers in the form of eight knights named Sir Alex, Sir Gabriel, Sir Henry, Sir Julian, Sir Rugelach (♥), and three females, Sir Isabella, Sir Lily, and Sir Margaret. There’s also Lady Sadie whose request to the knights prompts the adventure and premise of this story. “A dastardly dragon named Dreadful is roaming the countryside,” and its antics are disrupting preparations for the Hanukkah party she’s been planning. Their mission is to “fix things with some deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery.”

And so they set out to achieve this goal. While Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach journey to find Dreadful, the other six knights assist the citizens in whatever way they can. Knightly language adds to the enjoyment, “Hark!” exclaimed Sir Gabriel. “Methinks I hear a damsel in distress.” Whether peeling potatoes to help said damsel or making sufganiyot (donuts) at the bakery where a sign reads “Helpeth Wanted,” there’s no task too arduous for the team to tackle. But what about Dreadful? Alas, the disappointed dynamic duo of Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach fear they’ve exhausted all hopes of reining in that dragon until a smoky surprise greets their eyes. With their mitzvahs completed, the noble knights can begin their Hanukkah merrymaking with Lady Sadie and all the guests knowing their actions have spread kindness through the realm. In addition to Bernstein’s expressive characters, humorous details, and great use of white space, don’t miss her endpapers map to get a lay of the land.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

SimonandtheBear cvrSIMON AND THE BEAR: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
(Little Brown BYR; $12.99, Ages 4+)

First published in 2014, this paper-over-board reissue features a newly formated cover ideal for younger readers. Somehow I missed the original version and was happy to find that Kimmel’s Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale had me turning the pages in anticipation as it also warmed my heart.

When Simon sets sail to America from the old country just before Hanukkah, he departs with inspiring words (and a knapsack full of latkes, a menorah, candles, matches, brown bread, hard-boiled eggs, and herring) from his mother. “Wherever you are, Simon, don’t forget to celebrate Hanukkah and its miracles. Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey.” This foreshadowing lets readers know something will happen, but I never expected a Titanic-like episode where Simon’s boat sinks. Mensch that he is, he offers the last spot in a lifeboat to an older man and manages to find safety on an iceberg.

All alone but ever the optimist, Simon lights the candles as Hanukkah begins. As he plays dreidel, he also prays for a miracle. He is surprised and slightly scared when a polar bear appears. Simon offers it food in exchange for warmth and company. The passing days see the bear share his fish with Simon until the menorah’s flickering lights attract a rescue boat on the final night of Hanukkah. Arriving safely in New York, Simon meets the man he gave his lifeboat spot to. Now the Mayor of New York, this grateful man is intent on repaying Simon’s good deed making the final miracle happen, bringing Simon’s family to America. Kimmel’s crafted a fantastical and truly satisfying story through and through. In the character of Simon, he’s brought us a selfless main character readers will root for. Trueman’s jewel-toned colors and shtetl clothing design help ground the story in the early 1900s. The play with light always brings our eyes to focus on Simon over multiple iceberg scenes. Together the story and illustrations (I love the newspaper clippings about Simon’s survival) will make any reader a Hanukkah miracle believer.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

TheHanukkahMagicofNateGadol cvr THE HANUKKAH MAGIC OF NATE GADOL
Written by Arthur A. Levine
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)

The magic of Levine’s, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, begins with its glowing golden accented cover and is woven throughout this picture book embuing it with a feeling that it’s always been a Jewish folktale parents share every holiday. But it’s not! It’s a new story about a big-hearted Jewish spirit “whose magic can make things last exactly as long as they’re needed.” The tale was inspired by the author’s observations and emotions he experienced growing up as a Jew whose holiday and beautiful traditions were overlooked, overshadowed, and ultimately influenced by Christmas. Read the illuminating Author’s Note for more on this. Nate’s name is also significant in that it corresponds to the dreidel letters Nun and Gimmel, two of the four initials representing the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning, “A great miracle happened there.“

I was willingly transported to an unnamed American city in the late 19th century where immigrants of all nationalities lived and worked. Nate soon finds himself drawn to the plight of the Glaser family, newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Europe who are penniless as Hanukkah approaches. Additionally, their neighbors’ baby girl is sick and the O’Malley family cannot afford the medicine needed. Whatever the Glasers had they shared with their close neighbors but when there was nothing, Nate knew “he couldn’t stretch what wasn’t there.” How could either family even begin to think about celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas under those circumstances? The have-nots need a miracle. During a serendipitous meeting Christmas Eve on a city rooftop with Santa Claus, Nate is told, “The sleigh magic is nearly empty. Are there a lot of people having trouble believing this year?” The winter of 1881 is a tough one indeed meaning one thing; Nate to the rescue! He helps out the “red-suited man” who returns the favor in kind. Nate’s magic delivers Christmas presents under the O’Malley tree and, much to the surprise and delight of the Glaser children, not just beloved Hanukkah chocolate which was all they usually hoped for, but a pile of presents as well.

Hawkes’s muted color palette enhances the illustrations of this bygone era. His larger than life depiction of Nate Gadol, with a tinge of gold in his hair and a sparkle in his eye convey a positive mood despite the harsh circumstances the two families face. The pairing of Hawkes’s atmospheric art with Levine’s thoughtful prose makes a new story like The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol already feel like it’s been a treasured read in our home for years.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Hanukkah Books:

KaylaandKugelsHappyHanukkah cvrKAYLA AND KUGEL’S HAPPY HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

The third book in this charming series.

 

 


A DREIDEL IN TIME
Written by Marcia Berneger

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro
(Kar-Ben; $8.99, Ages 7+)

Read Ronna’s review of this middle-grade paperback in L.A. Parent magazine below.

 

 

 

 

A Dreidel in Time – A New Spin on an Old Tale

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Kids Picture Book Review – Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous

JUDAH TOURO DIDN’T WANT TO BE FAMOUS

Written by Audrey Ades

Illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger

(Kar-Ben Publishing; $17.99 HC,$7.99 PB, Ages 5-9)

 

Judah Touro Cover

 

In 1801, Judah Touro dreamed of finding success in New Orleans as he set sail from Boston Harbor. His story is vividly recounted in Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous, written by debut author Audrey Ades and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger.

After spending five miserable months at sea, Judah arrives in New Orleans. “His father and grandfather had also sailed the seas. They left their homes to practice Judaism in peace and freedom. God had taken care of them. Judah knew God had a plan for him, too.”

Mildenberger’s illustrations, using soft brown and blue colors, depict the busy harbor in Touro’s new hometown. “A busy harbor meant trade. And trade was a business Judah knew well.” Ades takes us through Judah’s transforming life as he welcomes new friends into his shop at Number 27 Chartres Street. Mildenberger draws crowds of people waiting in line as the industrious shop owner’s business booms. He becomes the most successful merchant in town unlike his father and grandfather who had been great Rabbis. “Had God planned for him to be a businessman?”

The United States entered the War of 1812 eleven years after Judah had relocated to New Orleans. When General Andrew Jackson urgently requested volunteers, Judah joined up, doing one of “the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield, bringing ammunition to soldiers.” During the war Judah was injured and his dearest friend, Rezin Shepherd, found him and nurtured him back to health. “While he lay in bed, he had plenty of time to think about why God had spared his life.”

 

Judah Touro DWTBF intspread
Interior spread from Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous written by Audrey Ades and illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger, Kar-Ben Publishing ©2020.

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Eagerly turning the page, we see Mildenberger’s moving full color illustrations of sad faces and homeless people as Judah walks through town. “His gut ached for the children who begged for food when they should have been in school. And he sobbed for families torn apart by diseases like yellow fever and cholera.” The poverty and suffering profoundly impacts Judah, supported by his cane, walking past the hospital. He knows he can afford to help these people and so he does. Judah begins making huge donations, but he “requested only one thing in return. He asked that his donations be kept secret. Judah Touro didn’t want to be famous.”

This engaging, educational story takes us through Judah’s purchase of the city’s first Jewish synagogue. We then see how “everyday, African men, women and children were legally sold as slaves so quietly, Judah began to pay off masters.” Ades explains to readers how, when Judah died in 1854, he left money for myriad charities and causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. “He made sure that fire departments, public parks, libraries and schools could remain open and running.” In his lifetime, “Judah gave away more money than any other American of his time. But he was not famous. And that’s the way he wanted it.”

In the Author’s Note, Ades explains how Touro did not leave a diary. However his secretive, selfless and generous actions make clear that during his formative years he had learned a great Jewish value, helping those in need. This fascinating historical fictionalized story is a great lesson on kindness and humility for lower grade students. They’ll learn that success is more than having money; it is about what you do with that money, and that philanthropic deeds, large and small can be done without requiring recognition. In our world of social media and instant gratification, it was inspirational to read about a real life hero who did great deeds, but chose to avoid fame.

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Best Passover Books for Children – The Passover Mouse

THE PASSOVER MOUSE

Written by Joy Nelkin Wieder

Illustrated by Shahar Kober

(Doubleday BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

The Passover Mouse cvr

 

Starred review – Kirkus

The night before Passover, a hungry and mischievous mouse steals a single bread crumb from a pile of chometz (leavened food) on a table where it waits to be burned in the morning, (to prevent the house being contaminated during Passover), and the adventure of The Passover Mouse begins! The mouse is chased first to the cobbler’s house, and then to the matchmaker’s. A different mouse and a cat join the fun, and confusion and chaos descend upon the community as they try to figure out what to do about the homes that have possibly being contaminated with the stray chometz.

This playful and inspiring tale is based upon and introduces children to a passage from the Talmud, a collection of ancient rabbis’ commentaries on Jewish law. Along with delightful illustrations by Shahar Kober, the traditional story presents a conundrum for the community, which is not resolved right away. The puzzling problem is presented to the town’s Rabbi, who presents an answer, but how to carry it out is ultimately suggested by a child, who speaks up and suggests community cooperation, which is embraced by everyone.

 

Passover Mouse interior spread 1
Interior spread from The Passover Mouse written by Joy Nelkin Wieder and illustrated by Shahar Kober, Doubleday BYR ©2020.

 

Joy Nelkin Wieder’s debut picture book reads like a traditional folk tale, and kids will have fun learning the many Hebrew and Yiddish words which are used throughout the story. Some may be familiar (Oy vey!) while some may be less known (yeshiva) but thankfully there is a glossary in the back with definitions along with an indication of how to pronounce them. An author’s note is also included which explains the original passage in the Talmud.

Kober’s illustrations have an engaging cast of lively, multi-generational characters that grow in numbers as the story progresses. Individual characters are recognizable and can be found, and followed, through the book. Kids will want to linger over the assorted expressive faces which reveal their personalities and reactions. The Seder scene accurately depicts traditional food, and the clothing and setting throughout portrays a traditional, fabled Jewish community. Kober’s consistent pallet of earthy colors and bright accents invoke a warm and inviting feeling that enhances the warmth and togetherness of this assorted but unified community.

 

Passover Mouse interior spread 2(1)
Interior spread from The Passover Mouse written by Joy Nelkin Wieder and illustrated by Shahar Kober, Doubleday BYR ©2020.

 

The story starts with the mouse, but the main thrust of the story involves the community who take a journey from confusion, blame and arguing, to unity—coming together and working together to solve their problem. In the end, everyone has re-established their friendships, spread some kindness, and even the mouse (and its companions) don’t go hungry (don’t miss the art on the last page! A wonderful tale and moral not only for Passover, but for any time of year.

Learn more about the Perfect2020PBs group here.

  • Guest Review by Molly Ruttan
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    Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books had its book birthday on September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram@mollyillo
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