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Three Picture Books for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

 

PICTURE BOOKS FOR RAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

 

Moon's Ramadan cover kids on balcony cheering moonMOON’S RAMADAN
Written and illustrated by Natasha Khan Kazi 
(Versify; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – School Library Journal

I’m a big fan of personification in picture books so I was curious how Kazi would bring the moon to life in her new Ramadan story. In her debut, she shows a cheerful crescent moon grinning at a diverse group of Muslims across the planet.

Ready for a month of peace and fasting from sunrise to sundown, people are busy cleaning and preparing. Moon’s view of celebrants takes us first to Egypt, then to Turkey. We learn the early morning meal is called Suhoor. The daylight hours are devoted to good deeds and kindness. When Moon glances down at Indonesia, it’s time to break the fast at Iftar. Here we’re treated to a spread of a dining room table filled with all the delicious foods of the holiday including dates. In the United Kingdom, Moon lights the way for children “delivering baskets of dried fruit and honey-soaked pastries.” Zakat, or charity during Ramadan, is discussed by leaders of the community in New Zealand. One example is by putting coins in sadaqah jars for those in need.

As the days pass, Moon grows fuller. So by the time this story reaches Somalia, it is full, signaling the halfway mark of the holiday. An Iman leads worshippers in the nightly prayer of Taraweeh. One of my favorite spreads, in rich purples and blues, is about breaking bread with people of different faiths. Set in the United States. Moon has reached its last quarter and is shaped like a loaf of bread that has risen. In Dubai Moon gets a glimpse of smiles and hennaed hands. A gorgeous star-lit outdoor scene greets a new Moon in Argentina as she “magically melts into mulberry and lavender hues.” People fill the streets as the month of fasting nears its end. First India for Chaand Raat, the night of the moon, and then for our return back to where everything in Kazi’s picture book began, in Egypt for the joyful Eid al-Fitr festivities. The positive energy of Kazi’swarm art, achieved using scanned watercolor textures and digital pencil, and uplifting prose pulsates from the pages!

The endpapers depict the phases of the moon and back matter includes an Author’ Note, a Ramadan Glossary, illustrations of different foods, and Ramadan items such as the lantern, the sadaqah jar, the traditional skullcap, and more. A rewarding read now and for years to come!

 

The Night Before Eid cover grandmother hugging grandchildTHE NIGHT BEFORE EID
Written by  Aya Khalil
Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

(Christy Ottaviano Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 Starred Review – Kirkus

Introduce your children to Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that begins with a crescent moon above, by sharing this heart-warming new picture book.

Zain is so excited that Teita has finally arrived from Egypt. Everyone will help her make the delicious dessert called ka’ak that she is known for. She’s brought along special ingredients, too. The mouth-watering cookies take time and patience to make and though Zain is eager to get started, author Khalil takes us back to Egypt via several fabulous flashback spreads to when Zain’s Mama and Teita were younger. That was a time when the whole family would stay up all night to bake the ka’ak and then offer them as gifts to others. Those three pages of recollections convey the significance of this tradition that Zain’s family continues.

Zain brings the cookies to school where they are a hit even with his class’s pickiest eater. This is a super scene because it’s inclusive—there’s a student in a wheelchair, a Black student, a White student, one girl in a headscarf, and one boy wearing a yarmulke. When Zain’s teacher wants the recipe he is filled with pride. Wait until he tells Teita! You can feel the love emanating from the huge hugs and smiles he shares with his teita once home.

The charming illustrations, which include a lively kitty popping up in fun poses and places, have a childlike quality that I find appealing and feels so right for this story. They were created using mixed media including acrylic, oil, ink, spray paint, crayon, and pencil on watercolor paper. The saturation of colors such as pink, orange, and teal adds vibrancy to this tale that is already so full of life.

Seeing the scenes when Mama was a child helps reinforce how the memories of time spent together during the holiday are a cherished part of the experience. Young readers are treated to not only the history of ka’ak going back to the pharaohs’ rule but to the fun involved when everyone pitches in now to help prepare them. Khalil’s prose makes us almost taste their sweetness and shows how important it is to honor this joyful tradition. Six pages of back matter end the book with an explanation of Eid, a ka’ak time line, lovely author photos, and a recipe to try your hand a ka’ak making. Don’t miss this timeless intergenerational story!

 

Zahras Blessing cover girl wishing on the moonZAHRA’S BLESSING
Written by Shirin Shamsi
Illustrated by Manal Mirza
(Barefoot Books; Available in Hardcover $17.99, Paperback $9.99, + Spanish, Ages 4-9)

I loved where this wonderful story went and how the title can be interpreted to refer to more than one blessing that occurs in Zahra’s Blessing. One clue is given in Nirza’s beautiful cover artwork.

The story begins at bedtime with the main character, Zahra, telling her teddy bear that during the Ramadan moon, her mama says “… blessings are all around us during this month.” So Zahra prays for a sister, someone to bake with. I’m adding play with, read to, and love because it’s clear Zahra is a girl full of love.

One blessing during the holiday is to give to others so along with her Mama, Zahra chooses clothing to box up and donate. Afterward, she realizes that she cannot find Teddy, her stuffed animal, despite a thorough search. This loss weighs on her. A sister could help her look for Teddy.

When they bring their items to a refugee shelter, they will also spend time there volunteering. And though Zahra is missing her beloved Teddy, her mother explains the shelter residents have lost so much more since fleeing their homelands. That helps Zahra understand their difficult circumstances. Mama introduces Zahra to “someone special,” a young refugee named Haleema who is painting. This a second clue kids might not pick up on. They may also not get that Haleema refers to her parents in the past tense. Her Baba was an artist she tells Zahra. Her mama was an architect. Here I must note I did wonder if kids will infer Haleema’s parents had died. What is clear is that Zahra and Haleema bond over painting, reading stories, and then breaking the fast together. Soon it was time to go home and I was moved when Zahra longs to find Teddy so she can give him to Haleema who was sad to see her new friend go. Moments like this demonstrate Zahra’s maturity and humanity.

Over Ramadan, Zahra and Haleema spend more time together, growing closer every day. Just before “Eid Day dawned dazzling bright” Zahra’s parents share a delightful secret with her which readers ultimately learn a few spreads later. Zahra’s wish for a sister has come true in the most wonderful way so when Eid festivities end, this family of three grows to a family of four with Haleema! There was no denying the blessing of Ramadan that Zahra’s family could feel.

The two pages of back matter explain the holiday, and its customs, and also address displacement, shelters, and foster care. The interconnectedness of Shamsi’s lyrical writing with Mirza’s jewel-toned, ebullient art makes this a standout story for children. Zahra’s Blessing presents a story of empathy, kindness, and the joy of giving in an engaging and accessible way while beautifully blending the richness of Ramadan and Eid.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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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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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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Kids Picture Book Review – Sweet Tamales for Purim

SWEET TAMALES FOR PURIM

Written by Barbara Bietz

Illustrated by John Kanzler

(August House Little Folk; $8.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Sweet Tamales book cover

 

 

Purim is just around the corner! To celebrate this joyful Jewish festival in the 19th century, people of various backgrounds traveled by horse and buggy, and some by train, in Sweet Tamales for Purim, written by the award-winning team of writer Barbara Bietz and illustrator John Kanzler. This delightful and diverse picture book tells the story of a community coming together to combine cultural and religious traditions in a small southwestern town. 

Kanzler’s illustrations of the bright blue sky and drawings of characters dressed in clothes from the 1800s introduce the reader to a time long ago reminding us that family traditions remain. The excitement on our main character Rebecca’s face is shown as she places Purim Party posters on the town walls, with her best friend Luis and her goat Kitzel, as old men from the town look on.

 

Sweet Tamales spread 1[2]
Interior spread from Sweet Tamales for Purim written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, August House ©2020.
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“We wear costumes on Purim,” Rebecca explains to Luis as her mother sews a crown of flowers for her head. Luis is not familiar with Purim “since his family celebrates different holidays from mine.” Bietz changes settings taking the reader through the story of the Evil Haman who plotted to harm the Jews in the city of Shushan. Through chalkboard drawings, Rebecca shows Luis Queen Esther’s Uncle Mordecai and Haman’s plot. Luis learns how the Jewish people were saved.

“When someone says Haman’s name during Purim, there’s lots of booing and shouting,” Rebecca explains to Luis. “Rebecca, can I bring my maracas?” Luis asked. “Maracas are perfect for Purim. Together, we’ll make lots of noise.”

After removing the delicious smelling sweet treat of hamantaschen from the oven, Luis and Rebecca go outside to play marbles. The story takes an unexpected turn when both Kitzel the goat and the hamantaschen go missing! (If you have a pet you probably figured this part out by now.) Purim was ruined, but Rebecca was determined to fix it. The reader anxiously turns the page to a new family tradition as Luis’s mama introduces us to her family’s tradition of Sweet Tamales. “Sweet Tamales for Purim!”

“When the husks were soft, Luis showed me how to spread the mixture on the corn husks and fill them with raisins and more sugar and cinnamon. His mama steamed the tamales in a giant pot.”

 

 

Sweet Tamales Spread 20-21
Interior spread from Sweet Tamales for Purim written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler, August House ©2020.

 

Bietz’s descriptive words and Kanzler’s real-life drawings welcome the reader into a time long ago. Adults and children alike see what happens when we all come together through kindness in both the past and the present. This beautifully told story about two children from different backgrounds is a great read about inclusion and reminds us how beautiful a town can be when people come together as one. Eating both hamantaschen and sweet tamales on Purim is a great idea! The Author’s Note explains the story of the late pioneers who settled in the Southwest where life was lonely and isolated. Bietz explains how her story was inspired by a true event that occurred in 1886 when the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society of Tucson, Arizona, planned a Purim Ball for the entire community. I learned something I did not know about Purim in the 1800s. I know this will be a great read for both Jewish and non-Jewish children.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Kids Board Book Review – Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah

BARNYARD BUBBE’S HANUKKAH

Written by Joni Klein-Higger + Barbara Sharf

Illustrated by Monica Gutierrez

(Kar-Ben Publishing; $5.99, Ages 1-4)

 

 

Little ones will love the mystery, rhyme and repetition in Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah, an entertaining read-aloud board book written by Joni Klein-Higger and Barbara Sharf with colorful and sweet illustrations by Monica Gutierrez.

In this adorable story, seven different farm animals show up on seven consequent nights knocking, tapping, rapping, swishing, thumping, rat tat tatting and scratching on Bubbe’s front door. Each one leaves a different present such as oil, onions, and eggs. Bubbe’s porch is a busy place during Hanukkah! Young readers get a glimpse of assorted hooves, paws and even a tail in the artwork as well as an accompanying animal sound printed in larger font such as neigh, bwak, or woof to clue them into the gift giver’s identity. Having children guess what all those ingredients are for and who is dropping them off only adds to the enjoyment of this engaging holiday book.

 

Barnyard Bubbes Hanukkah intart
Interior artwork from Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah written by Joni Klein-Higger and Barbara Sharf and illustrated by Monica Gutierrez, Kar-Ben ©2019.

 

Klein-Higger and Sharf have given a fun Festival of Lights spin to the popular “Twelve Days of Christmas” song: On the first night of Hanukkah, what did Barnyard Bubbe see? One sack of meal. “Oh, my. Who has left this for me?” After seven nights of anonymous donations, Bubbe knows just what to do on the eighth night—make latkes for the bevy of adorable barnyard animals!

MEET THE AUTHORS

Meet Joni and Barbara on Sunday, December 8 at 10:30a.m. at Pasadena’s Southern California Children’s Museum.
This co-hosted PJ Library event is part of the Jewish Book Festival. Klein-Higger and Sharf deliver a “special Hanukkah treat” as they “bring their story to life and perform original songs sure to please the 5 and under set.” Cost is $5 per child at the door.

 

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Review – Shubh Diwali!

SHUBH DIWALI!
Written by Chitra Soundar
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Shub Diwali book cover

 

Every fall I celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, better known as Hanukkah, which lasts eight days. But there is another Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus called Diwali that is “celebrated across five days,” depending on where one lives. This year Diwali begins on Sunday, October 27 so I wanted to share this new picture book about the holiday called Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua.

From the very first pages when “Grandpa watches the waning moon. The festival is coming soon,” readers feel a sense of anticipation knowing that something wonderful is about to happen. Chua’s cheerful and brightly colored artwork depicts preparations underway as a multi-generational Indian family tidies their home in the days leading up to Diwali. I love how we see everyone involved, even the adorable dog, eager for the celebration to begin.

 

Shubh Diwali IN01
Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

Told in rhyme, Shubh Diwali! introduces youngsters to the numerous holiday customs such as hanging bunting made from mango leaves, creating striking Rangoli art (“traditional floor decorations and patterns made from rice flour and colored powders”), and wearing new clothes. There’s plenty of storytelling by elders, in this case recounting tales of gods who “fought evil against all odds,” as well as time together with the whole family to reflect when hymns are chanted and bells are rung. Of course there’s also a lot of eating and playing because, well because that’s what happens when there’s a houseful of kids and adults!

 

Shubh Diwali IN02
Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

The picture book is filled with a diverse group of friends and neighbors who are invited to share in the lovely and meaningful Diwali rituals such as lighting the lamps, exchanging presents and candy, and watching brilliant fireworks light up the skies. I learned in the interesting back matter that on the third day of this festival, which happens to be when the New Year is celebrated, people “offer food and support to those less privileged than themselves.” Also the fifth day, called Bhai Dooj, is devoted to brothers and sisters getting together to “celebrate their love for one another.”

 

Shubh Diwali IN03
Interior illustration from Shubh Diwali! written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Albert Whitman & Company ©2019.

 

I recommend sharing this charming picture book with children so, like me, they can learn about Diwali and its beautiful traditions. There are many holidays based on the lunar calendar and it’s a good idea to expose kids to as many as possible in order to gain a greater understanding of different cultures at home and abroad and maybe make our world a little smaller.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

Read a review about another book illustrated by Charlene Chua here.

 

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