African warthogs, swinging orangutans, magical shoeboxes… a new crop of children’s books for the High Holidays is here!
By Penny Schwartz
(JTA) – Young ones can get a jump start on the new year by turning the pages on these entertaining and informative reads.
Written and illustrated by Rinat Hoffman;
translated (from Hebrew) by Noga Applebaum
Green Bean Books; ages 4-8
Prepare to be enchanted by this rhyming poem-story for Rosh Hashanah by the award-winning Israeli illustrator and children’s author Rinat Hoffman. Shani’s father surprises her with a pair of shiny new red shoes for Rosh Hashanah. Naturally she tosses aside the ordinary looking shoebox. But on Yom Kippur, Shani finds the box hidden behind stuffed animals and the next day crafts it into a sukkah. During Chanukah, a cat discovers the discarded box and uses it to stay warm in the winter. Season to season, the box takes on a magical quality, turning up in new guises and with new uses throughout a year’s worth of Jewish holidays. The next Rosh Hashanah, Shani’s father fills the box with another new pair of shoes.
It’s refreshing to have a children’s story that depicts a father in everyday roles more commonly associated with moms, like buying shoes for his kids and cleaning the house.
Kerry Olitzky; illustration by Abigail Tompkins
Kar-Ben; ages 1-4
As Noah and his wife, Naamah, greet each of the animals onto the ark, Naamah makes sure they are comfortable. The ark comes well designed, with big potties for the elephants and little ones for smaller friends. When a baby raccoon needs to use the bathroom, Mother Hen patiently guides the young one to learn how. The animals offer an empathetic lesson in taking care of one’s body, complete with a prayer. And off they sail on the ark as the rains begin.
The book makes a timely read during the High Holidays because the story of Noah is read in synagogues on the second Shabbat following Simchat Torah, when the cycle of reading the Torah begins anew.
Jane Kohuth; illustrations by Elissambura
Kar-Ben; ages 4-8
In this brightly illustrated story for Sukkot, Jane Kohuth weaves a playful folk-like tale told in simple poetic verse. In her rural village in Uganda, Auntie Sanyu is preparing for the fall harvest holiday when Jews build a hut called a sukkah where they eat, welcome guests and sometimes even sleep. Kids follow Auntie Sanyu as she decorates her sukkah and places a lulav and etrog on a tray to be used in the holiday rituals by Auntie Sanyu’s animal guests. But Warthog loves the etrog so much, he doesn’t want to hand it over to the lion, parrots or giraffe. A young girl named Sara intervenes.
The back page explains the history of the Ugandan Jewish community called the Abayudaya, and a glossary explains about the sukkah and lulav and terms like “Oy, vey!”
Sandy Eisenberg Sasso;
illustrated by Margeaux Lucas
Apples & Honey Press; ages 7-12
Older kids may be fascinated to learn about Regina Jonas, the German Jew who in 1935, against many odds and strict gender roles, became the first woman ordained as a rabbi. This illustrated biography traces how Jonas persisted until religious authorities finally allowed her to take the exam to become a rabbi.
The afterword tells of the tragic ending of Jonas’ life in 1944, where she was killed in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. It would be nearly 40 years later until another woman, the American Sally Priesand, is ordained, in the Reform movement. Today there are nearly 1,000 women rabbis around the world, among them the book’s author, who herself was a trailblazer as the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in the Reconstructionist movement.