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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 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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