SEVEN GOOD YEARS:
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
★ 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 holiday—sharing 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
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
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
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
★ 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 film—will 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
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.
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?
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!