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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.”

 

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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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