The long vacation is a good time for children to discover the pleasure of books.
By LIAT COLLINSYonatan v'Abdullah (Hebrew)
By Merchav Zuarets,
Illustrated by Nissim Ninio
Children growing up here speaking both Hebrew and English at home can have double the fun when it comes to reading. Yonatan v'Abdullah, as you can guess from the title, is about two children who live in very different communities - a Jewish town and an Arab village. With the innocence of the young, they quickly discover just how much they have in common. Ultimately they bring their friends and families together too (although to learn how they did it, you'll have to read the book or get someone between the ages of seven and 10 to read it to you).
Adults might find it difficult to suspend their cynicism throughout the book but, after all, it is aimed at a younger audience for whom anything is possible: if not peace in the Middle East, then at least peace between two communities living side by side.
A phone conversation with the author reveals that inspiration for the book came from personal experience from a period when he owned a construction company. Yonatan and Abdullah are loosely based on Zuarets's son, Rotem, who became friendly with Ali, the son of one of his father's employees, when he was about seven and could not understand how contact was later cut as it became impossible to travel between his town and Ali's village. The book, dedicated to the two boys, was written around the time Rotem celebrated his bar mitzva.
I was not surprised to find that President Shimon Peres had written a warm letter to the author, saying: "The way in which you chose to present the story of the conflict in our region to a child audience is wonderful in my opinion."
Zuarets uses a pleasant style in this, his first published book. He does not talk down to his young readers and provides details easily recognizable to most children - the whispering of parents which they think the kids can't hear, the ability to transform a puddle into a playground, misunderstanding the exact meaning of adult words like "the government" (hamemshala).
The typeface is clear and there are vowels (nikud) making it easy to read. Ninio's illustrations add to the pleasure.
I asked my nearly eight-year-old son what he thought about the book and he told me he thought it had the message "Tov hashnayim min ha'ehad" - two is better than one. It might not be the quite message of coexistence that Zuarets was aiming for, but it's a positive thought to carry through the summer vacation.
By Shifra Glick
Feldheim, 97 pp., $20.99, hardcover
Once you've discovered them, you'll want to make the Shikufitzkys part of your life: In fact, it might sometimes seem they have been eavesdropping in your home already. Aimed at eight- to 11-year-olds, these humorous cartoon characters are easy for both young and old to identify with - my son and I both giggled at the mother octopus telling her demanding offspring "I've only got eight hands!" or scolding her son: "I've told you a million times, stop exaggerating."
The comic strips are set out on color-coded pages, making it easy to see where one ends and the next begins. Some are just one-page vignettes, others sustain the jokes - and insights - for much longer. In true Feldheim style, the characters are all "kosher" - boys with kippot, girls wearing skirts, etc. - but they should appeal to a broader audience, too. (And, anyway, why should learning about how similar we are be reserved for Arab-Jewish coexistence themes?) Ideal to be dipped into between pool and beach, this is the fifth and final book in this series. Fans need not worry, however, Glick is promising a new series: Shikufitzky Street. I wouldn't be surprised to find it's right up our alley.
Riki Solves the Problem
By Chana Tager
Illustrated by Mirel Goldenberg
32 pp., $12.99, hardcover
Kids and parents will recognize the traditional summer vacation chant "I'm bored" that starts Riki's adventures, but the solution is fresh. Tager, a child psychologist, sets out various possibilities in rhyme with cute illustrations - the frog who accompanies Riki says, for example: "Come on, let's play some hide and seek. It's now your turn to take a peek."
Aimed at four- to eight-year-olds, it should talk to the English-speaking child growing up here: "I could draw with the colored pencils Savta gave me for my birthday," thinks Riki, for instance, using the Hebrew for grandmother.
The book's appeal might be limited to the younger part of this age group but then nothing last for ever - not even summer holidays.
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