Shofars, apples, and honey, make room for pomegranates, couscous, and pumpkins.
The new crop of children’s books for the High Holy Days opens a world beyond the beloved traditional symbols of the New Year.
From ancient times to today, the savory, engaging reads presented here will take families from the kitchen to the bedroom to the sukka.
Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook
Tales retold by Jane Yolen; recipes by Heidi E.Y. Stemple; illustrated by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin. Crocodile Books/Interlink, $25; ages five and older.
Master storyteller Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, a cook and children’s writer, serve up a collection of richly detailed retellings of Jewish folk tales from around the world paired with kid-friendly recipes. Yolen presents a range of stories, from the entertaining and humorous to, for older readers, lesser-known sophisticated tales that pose life’s challenges. Stemple offers up tempting recipes adapted for today’s families, from the traditional, familiar Eastern European fare to more exotic African and Sephardi cuisine.
The brightly colored collages and recipe illustrations by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin make the book a pleasure to browse for all ages.
Among the 18 stories and recipes are two Rosh Hashana entries. “Two Jars of Honey,” set in the days of King Solomon involves a wise-beyond-his-years Solomon resolving a feud between neighbors. All ends well on a note of compassion and forgiveness. A recipe for traditional honey cake includes a surprising ingredient — a can of cola.
In “The Pomegranate Seed,” a tale that originated in Morocco, a poor man caught stealing uses his wit and a moral challenge to save himself. An appealing recipe for pomegranate couscous is packed with flavor, texture, and color from pomegranate seeds, dried apricots, cinnamon, cilantro, and fresh mint. An added note explains that pomegranates are associated with Rosh Hashana because the red, globe-shaped fruit is said to have 613 seeds that correspond with the Torah’s 613 mitzvot, or commandments.
Budding storytellers, folklorists, and teachers will appreciate Yolen’s outstanding end notes that credit other storytellers for their earlier versions and provide the origins and cultural history of the stories.
In the introduction, Yolen and Stemple write that storytelling and cooking change over time and location. “Be playful,” they encourage, and “let’s eat!”
What a Way to Start a New Year! A Rosh Hashanah Story
Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Judy Stead. Kar-Ben; $16.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback; ages three-eight
Award-winning author Jacqueline Jules’ What a Way to Start a New Year! is a lighthearted and authentic story for Rosh Hashana that reflects the diversity of today’s Jewish families and the hustle and bustle of daily life.
In the opening pages, a perky young girl is eating a slice of pizza in her family’s new home, which is filled with unpacked boxes. The family, including two younger brothers, has just moved to a new town. While her dad isn’t Jewish, he loves celebrating the High Holy Days. But how will they observe the New Year? our storyteller wonders with some concern.
When they venture back to their old neighborhood to share a traditional Rosh Hashana meal with their friends, one plan after another goes awry. “What a way to start a new year!” they each sigh after mishap follows zany mishap.
Things begin to look up when one of dad’s coworkers invites them to synagogue services. While the prayers and songs are familiar, the kids still feel out of place because they don’t recognize anyone.
Finally they are welcomed to share Rosh Hashana dinner with new friends. “What a wonderful way to start a new year!” the young girl exclaims.
Judy Stead’s brightly colored, cartoon-like illustrations are a lively accompaniment to the story.
An author’s note reminds parents that while starting in a new home or school can be difficult, it’s made easier by generous hosts. She explains the mitzva of hahnasat orhim, “welcoming guests.”
A Watermelon in the Sukkah
Sylvia A. Rouss and Shannan Rouss, illustrated by Ann Iosa. Kar-Ben; $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paper; ages three-eight.
Decorating a Jewish school’s sukka becomes inventive when a young boy, Michael, wants to hang his favorite fruit, a watermelon, from the roof. All the kids’ usual ideas — think duct tape and string — fall flat. Michael’s creative thinking and teamwork save the day. A brief author’s note explains the holiday.
Iosa’s fall-toned illustrations of gold, green, and purple convey the children’s excitement and disappointment with lively action that will entertain young kids.
Sam and Charlie (and Sam Too!)
Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Stefano Tambellini. Albert Whitman, $13.99; ages six to eight
A delightful chapter book that was published earlier this year, Sam and Charlie (and Sam Too!) is a story of friendship of young new neighbors. The book is divided into five stories that tell of the daily ups and downs among two Jewish friends and a younger sibling. The format and Kimmelman’s light and endearing touch evokes the classic George and Martha series by James Marshall, or the beloved Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel.
The last of the set, titled I’m Sorry Day, will have the kids giggling along with Sam and Charlie even as it opens up an easy conversation to the tough subject of apologies and forgiveness. Children of all faiths and backgrounds will have fun with these memorable stories and learn about the meaning of Yom Kippur, the holiday of forgiveness.
Tikkun Olam Ted
Vivian Newman, illustrated by Steve Mack. Kar-Ben; $5.95 board book, also available as eBook; ages one-four.
From Sunday to Friday, a small boy named Ted spends his days doing some big things to make the world a kinder, better place. On Shabbat he rests, dreaming of tikun olam, the repair of the world.
Tikkun Olam Ted is a lively toddler book with colorful illustrations that will engage younger kids. Older ones may be inspired by simple, fun ways to help around the house or out in the world.