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Picture Book Review for Rosh Hashanah – Measuring a Year

MEASURING A YEAR: A ROSH HASHANAH STORY

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by Zara González Hoang

(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Measuring a Year cover

 

 

When I celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I reflect on the year gone by, and now author Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrator Zara González Hoang have created an inviting way for children to do the same with Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story.

What struck me the most about this rhyming picture book was what a terrific conversation starter it is for families and how, per the back matter, other opportunities are indicated where the book can be used including “the secular, Lunar, Islamic, and Hindu New  Years, birthdays, and the start of each school year. And, of course, the start of each new day.”

 

 

Measuring a Year int1 height measure
Interior spread from Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Zara González Hoang, Abrams Appleseed ©2022.

 

I like how the many ways to approach introspection or measuring a year are presented. A year gone by can literally be measured by how much a child has grown. It can also be measured by friends made, a new skill learned, places visited, and special occasions such as weddings and bar mitvahs celebrated. The book doesn’t shy away from addressing how measuring a year should include thinking back on times a child did something they regret, times they were sad, or even scared. So much can happen in a year.

 

Measuring a Year int2 new year party
Interior spread from Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Zara González Hoang, Abrams Appleseed ©2022.

 

Hoang’s inclusive, diverse illustrations, were rendered using “watercolor, colored pencils, and a bit of Photoshop magic” and are rich with children of all abilities. In terms of Jewish symbols, I spotted a Menorah, a Sukkah, a dreidel, a Jewish Star, and people wearing yarmulkes. During this high holy day when we have the chance to start anew, many Jews eat honey cake and dip apples in honey for a sweet new year.  The delicious-looking endpapers were designed with this tradition in mind. Between the joyful art and the gentle tone, Measuring a Year is a thoughtful and easy way for kids to understand and appreciate the significance of Rosh Hashanah and welcome addition to any Jewish holiday book collection.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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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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Best Hanukkah Books 2016 – A Roundup

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
A Roundup by Ronna Mandel

 

Hanukkah Delight!
Hanukkah Delight by Leslea Newman book coverWritten by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy Husband
(Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4)

An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as:
Friends and neighbors to invite, 
Ancient blessings we recite.
Gleaming candles burning bright,
Crispy latkes taste just right.

 

A Hanukkah With MazelA Hanukkah With Mazel by Joel Edward Epstein
Written by Joel Edward Stein
Illustrated by Elisa Vavouri
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, $6.99 eBook, Ages 3-8)

Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazel is flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.

Yitzi and the Giant Menorah cover imageYitzi and the Giant Menorah
Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar
(Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.

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Talia and the Very Yum Kippur by Linda Elovitz Marshall

TALIA AND THE VERY YUM KIPPUR
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli
(Kar-Ben Publishing; Hardcover, $17.99; Paperback, $7.99, Ages 3-8)

 

TaliaYumKippurcvr.jpg

When I was a little girl, probably the same age as the main character in Talia and the Very Yum Kippur, I always thought that Yom Kippur was actually called “Yum” Kippur, at least that’s how everyone in my family pronounced this most holy of Jewish holidays. So, I couldn’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to write a “pun-driven story of misheard words and malapropisms” like this “Yum” Kippur themed story, but I’m glad that at last someone has!

Author Linda Elovitz Marshall who, according to this picture book’s jacket flap, “raised her four children, a small flock of sheep, … on a farm in a historic farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York,” has chosen a similar setting for this charming tale. Only this farm’s inhabitants are Talia’s grandparents. Talia happily helps her grandmother prepare the food for the traditional Break Fast, a meal beginning at sundown immediately following a 24 hour fast of atonement by those over age 13.

The whole time Talia’s helping her grandmother, she’s thinking that the food-in-the-works is for breakfast, the morning meal, having misunderstand the correct name of the holiday. Talia’s confusion begins early on in the story and deliciously builds which will keep children turning the pages to see how everything works out. Who can blame a little girl for eagerly awaiting what she hopes will be the “Yum” Kippur breakfast of scrumptious kugel along with all the other tasty dishes?

The best part about Talia and the Very Yum Kippur is that, in addition to the humor of the play on words, Marshall introduces young readers to the meaning of this important holiday “… when Jews fast and pray and think about how to be better people.” While we fast, we take the time to think about our transgressions and pray for forgiveness. After learning this from her grandmother, Talia digs deep and apologizes for a lamp she had broken but had blamed on her doll. Grandma, too, asks for forgiveness for having yelled at her granddaughter upon seeing the broken lamp.

Assirelli serves up a selection of gorgeous folkish-looking spreads that pair beautifully with Marshall’s prose. Since Yom Kippur is in the fall, the artist has chosen autumn hues to pepper the pages making this special season come alive.

“Thanks to Talia and her grandmother, they all enjoyed a very sweet YUM Kippur.” And speaking of sweet, don’t miss the yummy recipe for Talia’s YUM Kippur Kugel included in the back matter!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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The Jewish New Year is Almost Here!

What a Way to Start a New Year! is a new picture book from Kar-Ben about Rosh Hashanah. Written by Jacqueline Jules with art by Judy Stead.
What a Way to Start a New Year! is a new picture book from Kar-Ben about Rosh Hashanah. Written by Jacqueline Jules with art by Judy Stead.

WHAT A WAY TO START  A NEW YEAR! A ROSH HASHANAH STORY (Kar-Ben Publishing, $16.99 Hardcover, $7.95 Paperback, ages 3-8), by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Judy Stead, is a wonderful book to share at the High Holidays or anytime really. Between Jules’s realistic and readable text to Stead’s vibrant and expressive illustrations, this picture book would make a welcome addition to any family’s book collection. A bonus is that the dad, who is not Jewish, loves celebrating the holidays making this story ideal for interfaith families.

It’s Murphy’s Law around Dina’s house as everything that can go wrong does go wrong before the New Year celebration. First, the family has just moved to a new town and are living out of boxes. It’s just not the same as when they lived in Greenville. When they decide to drive the two hours to Greenville to visit the Kaplans, old family friends, one unlucky event after another begins to work against them. Harry forgets his special pillow, Mom locks her key in the house, the car gets a flat tire, grape juice spills all over the floor and someone always exclaims, “What a way to start a new year!”

And while these kids who have just relocated to a new home and new city may compare and complain, it’s not uncommon considering the circumstances. They did not want leftover pizza for their New Year meal! They pined for their round challah and brisket. And the Kaplans, of course, because they were a known entity. Change is never easy.

When Dad accepts an invitation to meet Alan Levine, a work colleague, at the local synagogue for Rosh Hashanah services, Harry and Dina are delighted to meet Mr. Levine’s grandchildren. It’s not long before Murphy’s Law is history and this young family is joining the Levines for a joyous holiday dinner. “What a wonderful way to start a new year!”

– Reviewed by Ronna M andel

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