Googly-eyed fish, succa-eating squirrels

A new crop of engaging Jewish children’s books that relate to the High Holy Days.

Speak Up,Tommy! 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Speak Up,Tommy! 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The story of Jonah, which is read in synagogue on Yom Kippur, is retold by award-winning children’s writer Tilda Balsley in a lively, rhyming rhythm that will get 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 and is then 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 is a lighthearted backyard mystery that captures the seasonal spirit of the joyous celebration of Succot, reflecting the holiday’s appreciation for the natural world. Susan Axe-Bronk’s first children’s book is brightly illustrated by Marta Monelli.
With Succot’s themes of gratitude, simplicity and appreciation of all things green, it’s no wonder the holiday is gaining popularity.
In this tale, readers meet Sara, a spirited young girl who loves to decorate the family succa with colorful and unusually shaped gourds from a local farm. But one year, the gourds hanging from the roof’s slats mysteriously fall to the ground, scattering their seeds. At night, while Sara and her brother, Avi, are sleeping in the succa, 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 Succot.
Monelli’s large-format illustrations reflect the colors of the season.
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 boy 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. Children will pick up the beat of Gabriel’s magic words as he sneaks off his 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.
Linda Elovitz Marshall provides a lighthearted setting for 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 children to enjoy reading the story through the expressive artwork.
Michelle Edwards’s deft touch and sense of humor shine in this delightful family tale that follows a 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, which will become the nursery, overflows with stuff his mom has collected over the years when neighbors bring her their extra sheets, outgrown kids pajamas, sports clothes, sweaters and more. Who wouldn’t relate?
As the family observes Shabbat, Rosh Hashana and, finally, Hanukka, old sheets are torn apart and sewn into tiny baby sleepers; chopsticks and an old sweater sleeve become a flag for Simhat Torah, and so forth through the Jewish holidays. By Hanukka, all the junk 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 on many themes – anticipating a new baby, celebrating Jewish holidays, dads who bake halla, living in a multicultural neighborhood and, of course, inventive ways to reuse old things. Jana Christy's illustrations glow with colorful collage patterns. Even the family cat gets in on the action.
While Speak Up, Tommy!, by award-winning author Jacqueline Dembar Greene, is not about the High Holy Days, it is an outstanding new title that is timely as the new school year gets under way.
Set in a classroom, this book strikes all the right 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” (quiet); “tavi” (fetch) and “kelev tov” (good dog). In the end, classmates become helpful friends.
Deborah Melmon’s cartoon-like illustrations are lively and action-packed.