(JTA) — Get ready: 5777 is arriving soon. And a new Jewish year means a fresh crop of top-notch Jewish books for kids.
This year, not one but two new Rosh Hashanah books are penned by Eric A. Kimmel, the master storyteller whose popular award-winning children’s classics include “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” and “Simon and the Bear.” His latest entries, “Little Red Rosie” and “Gabriel’s Horn,” are among the new crop of lively and engaging Jewish children’s books for the High Holidays that reflect the wide range of today’s American Jewish families.
Typically, most of the ink is devoted to Rosh Hashanah, which begins this year on the evening of Oct. 2. But there are fresh reads about many of the forthcoming holidays — one book, “Maya Prays for Rain,” is a charming story about the little-known holiday Shemini Atzeret that comes at the end of Sukkot.
Want to make the new year extra sweet for a little one in your life? Check out the six books below.
Families can usher in the Jewish New Year with this colorful and lively toddler board book, the fifth in the Kar-Ben board book series on Jewish holidays by Tracy Newman and Vivian Garofoli (including “Shabbat is Coming!” and “Passover is Coming!”). Young kids braid a round challah, blow the shofar, set out apples and honey, and enjoy a juicy pomegranate as they get ready to celebrate the new year.
A confident young girl enlists the help of her numerous feathered friends to bake challah for the neighborhood Rosh Hashanah dinner. With an illustrated recipe in hand, Rosie gently leads a parrot, toucan and hornbill as they measure flour, add eggs, knead the dough and braid it into loaves. In one of Gutierrez’s illustrations — sure to tickle young ones — poppy seeds fly through the air and land all over the kitchen table and floor.
“Who will help me clean the kitchen?” Rosie asks.
They all pitch in, and Rosie saves the day when she prevents the hornbill from toppling a teetering tower of dirty dishes. When the lovely loaves are baked, Rosie and her friends recite the blessing over the challah, and the neighbors who gather around the festive table all enjoy the bread.
It’s a warm fall day, and a spunky young girl greets her neighbors in her multicultural town. It seems like everyone is taking advantage of the sunny, dry weather by partaking in all kinds of outdoor activities. But when Maya learns that the evening’s synagogue service for the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret includes a prayer for rain, she warns her neighbors to cancel their plans. Much to Maya’s relief, however, she learns from her rabbi that the prayer is for Israel, where the rainy season is needed for crops and trees. “Amen,” she pronounces at the end of the prayer.
The back page includes an explanation of the lesser-known holiday that comes at the end of the Sukkot celebration.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, a young African-American soldier knocks on the door of the apartment where a young boy, Gabriel, lives with his parents, who are struggling to hang on to their small antiques shop. The solider explains he is going overseas and has no one to care for his special horn that once belonged to his grandpa, a musician, and brings good luck. Gabriel convinces his reluctant mom they can care for the horn. The name on the soldier’s uniform says Tishbi — the birthplace of the prophet Elijah, who is said to appear mysteriously on Earth, often disguised as a beggar who leaves behind him blessings of good fortune or health.
The theme of tzedakah — the Jewish obligation for charitable giving — shines through Kimmel’s heartwarming tale as Gabriel’s family selflessly shares its sudden good fortune through acts of kindness and generosity. Page after page, kids will wonder along with Gabriel if their newfound luck is related to the soldier and his tarnished, mysterious horn.
In a phone conversation from his home in Portland, Oregon, Kimmel told JTA that this book is a modern version of an old folktale based on a biblical Midrash. (A well-known version, “The Seven Years,” was penned by I.L. Peretz.) Kimmel first retold the tale in his award-winning 1991 children’s book “Days of Awe,” and with “Gabriel’s Horn” he revisits and contemporizes the story.
Kimmel said he continues to return to folk traditions because he sees them as the roots of so many stories.
“I really don’t think kids today know them well, and often their parents and teachers don’t know them, either,” he said. “They are so powerful.”
Poor Leah and Ari. The two friends dream of having a sukkah of their own — but living in the city poses too many obstacles, their parents tell them. The kids reveal their sad predicament to Al, the neighborhood grocer, and explain that during the seven-day holiday, Jewish families build a hut that they decorate with fruits like the ones Al sells. But will Leah and Ari’s dreams be answered when Ari’s picture of a “Sky-High Sukkah” wins a Hebrew school drawing contest for a free sukkah?
This is an endearing story that concludes happily as Leah and Ari discover that building community is just as rewarding as building a beautiful sukkah. Zemke’s lively illustrations capture the bustling urban neighborhood and brings to life the harvest holiday with bright reds, greens, purples and oranges.
What’s a Torah scroll and how is it made? This fascinating photo essay is perfect for Simchat Torah, the holiday that marks the end of the cycle of weekly Torah readings and the beginning of the new cycle, giving kids and grown-ups a behind-the-scenes look at what is involved in this ancient Jewish tradition. The author and photographer break down the many people, steps and materials involved, from hand-stretched parchment, special inks, and feather and reed pens to the meticulous rules for the calligraphy. The photo-filled pages reveal intriguing facts (for example, there are 304,805 letters in a Torah scroll); DIY projects (ink making), and open-ended questions for further thought (for one, how do you fix mistakes?).