New books: Googly-eyed fish, impish magicians, sukkah-eating squirrels

The Mitzvah Magician.<br />
 (Kar-Ben Publishing)

The Mitzvah Magician.
(Kar-Ben Publishing)

Speak Up, Tommy! </p>
<p> (Kar-Ben Publishing)

Speak Up, Tommy!

(Kar-Ben Publishing)

Oh No, Jonah!<br />
 (Kar-Ben Publishing)

Oh No, Jonah!
(Kar-Ben Publishing)

The Vanishing Gourds, A Sukkot Mystery.  (Kar-Ben Publishing)

The Vanishing Gourds, A Sukkot Mystery. (Kar-Ben Publishing)

BOSTON (JTA) — A giant googly-eyed fish, mischievous magicians and sukkah-eating squirrels are among the characters in a new crop of engaging Jewish children’s books that relate to the observance or themes of the Jewish High Holidays.

Here’s a rundown of the new books:

Oh No, Jonah!
Tilda Balsley, illustrations by Jago
Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback; $13.95 eBook
Ages 5-10

The story of Jonah read in the synagogue on Yom Kippur is retold by award-winning children’s writer Tilda Balsley in a lively, rhyming beat that will get the kids to listen. When the prophet Jonah refuses God’s request to persuade the people of Nineveh to change their wicked ways, he runs off to a ship, is tossed overboard and swallowed by a big fish. After Jonah prays for forgiveness, the fish spits him onto dry land and Jonah convinces the Ninevites to repent.

Balsley’s verse, which features the refrain “Oh No, Jonah!,” opens the door for discussion about misbehavior, apologies and forgiveness without being overbearing. Jago’s colorful illustrations — the fish is a golden giant with a humongous mouth and large googly eyes — will have young readers wading into the plot. The artist won the National Jewish Book Award for his illustrations in “Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim.”

The Vanishing Gourds, A Sukkot Mystery
Susan Axe-Bronk, illustrated by Marta Monelli
Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback
Ages 3-8

A PJ Library selection

“The Vanishing Gourds” is a lighthearted backyard mystery that captures the seasonal spirit of the joyous celebration of Sukkot, reflecting its appreciation of the natural world. Susan Axe-Bronk’s first children’s book is brightly illustrated by Marta Monelli.

With Sukkot’s themes of gratitude, simplicity and appreciation of all things green, it’s no wonder the holiday is gaining popularity.

In Axe-Bronk’s tale, readers meet Sara, a spirited young girl who loves to decorate the family sukkah with colorful and unusually shaped gourds from a local farm. But one year the gourds hanging from the roof slats mysteriously fall to the ground, scattering their seeds. At night, while Sara and her brother Avi are sleeping in the sukkah, they discover a family of squirrels eating the gourds. Sara dreams that the squirrel family apologizes, explaining that they were hungry. They promise to bring new gourds to Sara next year. In a heartwarming and happy ending, Sara discovers an unexpected gift the following Sukkot. Monelli’s large format illustrations reflect the colors of the season.

The Mitzvah Magician
Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Christiane Engel
Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback
Ages 3-8

Wearing a tall black hat and carrying a wand in his hand, an ordinary young boy transforms himself into a mischief-loving magician, emptying glasses of milk onto the floor and mistakenly poking his younger sister, Julia. In a time-out for his misbehavior, the young fellow thinks about his mother’s warnings that good magicians do good deeds, mitzvot, and don’t hurt people. With a wave of his magic wand, Gabriel creates new magic words — Jewish words. “One-wish! Two-wish!” Jew-Wish!” he proclaims. Young kids will pick up the beat of Gabriel’s magic command, as he sneaks off the time-out stool to magically clean up the spilled milk from the kitchen floor, tidy his overturned toys and even set a party table with cookies for the family.

Elovitz provides a lighthearted setting to the Jewish value of doing good, and Christiane Engel’s illustrations are lively and engaging. Figures and scenes are brightly colored and large enough for kids to enjoy reading the story through the expressive artwork.

Room for the Baby
Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Jana Christy
Random House, $17.99
Ages 3 and up
A PJ Library selection

Michelle Edwards’ deft touch and sense of humor shine through in this delightful family tale that follows a do-it-yourself-family through the Jewish holiday calendar. It begins at Passover, when Mom announces the family is going to have a baby.

“Where will the baby sleep?” wonders the young boy. The sewing room that will be used for the new baby overflows with his mom’s stuff that she’s collected for many years when neighbors bring her their extra sheets, outgrown kids pajamas, sports clothes, sweaters and more. Who won’t relate?

As the family observes Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah and finally Chanukah, old sheets are torn apart and sewn into tiny baby sleepers; chopsticks and an old sweater sleeve become a flag for Simchat Torah, and so forth through the Jewish holidays. By Chanukah, all the stuff has been repurposed into beautiful and useful items for the new baby or happily shared with neighbors.

This warmly imagined story by the award-winning author of “Chicken Man” touches many themes — anticipating a new baby, celebrating Jewish holidays, dads who bake challah, living in a multicultural neighborhood and, of course, inventive ways to reuse our “stuff.” Jana Christy’s illustrations glow with colorful collage patterns. Even the family cat gets in on the action.

Speak Up, Tommy!
Jacqueline Dembar Greene, illustrated by Deborah Melmon
Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback
Ages 3-8

While  “Speak Up, Tommy!,” by the award-winning author Jacqueline Dembar Greene, is not about the High Holidays, it is an outstanding new title that is timely as the new school year gets under way.

Set in a classroom, "Speak Up, Tommy!" touches all the chords about getting along with others and not teasing classmates, new or old. Tommy, a boy from Israel, is teased because his English is not perfect and he hasn’t learned the difference between Israeli and American football. But his perfect Hebrew comes in handy when Officer Sweeney visits the classroom with Samson, a specially trained dog who shares Tommy’s Hebrew language. There are fun Hebrew-English word bubbles with dog commands such as "sheket," meaning quiet; "tavi," for fetch’ and "kelev tov!" for good dog. In the end, classmates becom helpful friends.

Deborah Melmon’s cartoon-like illustrations are lively and action packed.

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