New children’s books for the Jewish New Year

By Penny Schwartz

BOSTON (JTA) — Challah-eating Australian kangaroos, an adventurous cartoon retelling of the biblical story of Jonah and the welcome second-in-a-series chapter book about a young girl with a magical sense of smell are among the highlights of this year’s crop of Jewish children’s books for the High Holidays.

Kids named Max will be tickled by two books with their name in the title. And the prolific master storyteller Jane Yolen offers up a fun-to-read-aloud story that young kids no doubt will ask for again and again.

The array of colorfully illustrated books will enliven the High Holidays, which begin this year with Rosh Hashanah on the evening of Sept. 6. Jewish families can bid farewell to the summer and usher in the Jewish New Year by cracking open these engaging new holiday books.

“Rosh Hashanah with Uncle Max”
Varda Livney
Kar-Ben; ages 1 to 4

Who wouldn’t love a Rosh Hashanah visit from Uncle Max, who arrives in a pink car with balloons and a large bakery box tied to the roof? In this delightful board book, a trio of siblings and their adorable dog greet the start of Rosh Hashanah, enjoying a festive meal and hearing the shofar at synagogue. Varda Livney’s simple text is sprinkled with Hebrew words that are translated into English, such as “dvash” for honey. Her cartoon-style illustrations match the joyful verse and present a family with varying tones of skin color, a refreshing portrayal of the diversity of the Jewish world.

“Happy ‘Roo Year: It’s Rosh Hashanah”
Jessica Hickman; illustrated by Elissambura
Kar-Ben; ages 1-4

Young kids will be hopping to welcome Rosh Hashanah with a fun-loving family of kangaroos in this lively book in rhyming verse. At synagogue, they hear the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn, along with their Australian friends the koalas, wombats and wallabies. “Here everyone belongs” is a welcoming message.

“Something New for Rosh Hashanah”
Jane Yolen; illustrated by Christine Battuz
Kar-Ben; ages 4-8

The kids will find a kindred spirit in Becca, a spunky girl who insists that she does not like anything new. In Jane Yolen’s delightful rhyming story set at the start of Rosh Hashanah, Becca declares “Never” to tasting her bubbe’s brisket and turns down kugel and even sweet honey cake.

But will something new on the New Year’s table attract Becca’s curiosity? Yolen, the acclaimed author of more than 400 books for children and dubbed “America’s Hans Christian Anderson,” delivers a charmer with playful language and repeating phrases that are perfect for reading aloud. Christine Battuz’s vibrant illustrations match the fun.

“Not So Fast, Max: A Rosh Hashanah Visit with Grandma”
Annette Schottenfeld; illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham
Kalaniot Books; ages 4-8

When Emily and Max’s grandmother, who they call Savta, visits from Israel for Rosh Hashanah, they look forward to their favorite tradition — making caramel apples. But Max is impatient when Savta’s plan to visit an orchard to pick “tapuchim,” Hebrew for apples, will delay the process. Max wants no part of the fun until his spunky, youthful Savta surprises him with basket-shooting pointers and juggling lessons.

Annette Schottenfeld deserves praise for featuring an active, lively grandmother. Jennifer Kirkham’s large, expressive illustrations glow with the colors of fall. Back pages include a note about Rosh Hashanah, a glossary of Hebrew words, and recipes for Savta’s apple cake and Max’s caramel apples.

“Jonah’s Tale of a Whale”
Barry L. Schwartz; illustrated by James Rey Sanchez
Apples & Honey Press; ages 5-9

Kids will be engrossed by this cartoonlike, age-appropriate retelling of the story of Jonah based on the eponymous biblical book that is read aloud in synagogues on Yom Kippur.

Jonah the prophet is not happy when God instructs him to warn the people of Nineveh to change their wicked behavior, thinking Israel’s enemies should be punished for their misdeeds. To avoid doing what God asks, Jonah flees on a ship, is thrown overboard in a storm and swallowed by a whale. Jonah realizes he was wrong, however, and when he is freed from inside the whale, he warns the people of Nineveh, who take heed and begin to act kindly to each other.

Barry L. Schwartz, a rabbi and acclaimed author, balances the captivating adventure with the moral tale of the power of forgiveness. James Rey Sanchez’s colorful, cinematic illustrations bring the action to life with drama and touches of humor.

“Starlight Soup: A Sukkot Story”
Elana Rubinstein; illustrated by Jennifer Naalchigar
Apples & Honey Press; ages 7-10

Just in time for Sukkot, Saralee Siegel is back in a chapter-book series about the endearing, spunky school-age girl whose magical sense of smell saves the day in the original, “Once Upon an Apple Cake: A Rosh Hashanah Story.”

Saralee’s grandfather, Zayde, the patriarch of the family’s popular Siegel House restaurant, asks her to create a zippy new recipe to excite customers for the seven-day fall festival, when Jews eat in small, open-roofed huts and welcome guests. Standing in her family’s large sukkah, Saralee’s senses waft up to the starlit skies and fill her with the fragrant aromas. Magically the flavors transform pots of boiling water into Starlight Soup — it tastes like everyone’s favorite food.

Meanwhile, Saralee’s best friend, Harold, whose family owns a rival Jewish restaurant, is plotting his own Sukkot celebration. Trouble stirs the pot when Saralee’s soup overpowers everyone’s tastebuds and ruins their appetites.

What will Saralee do to make it all better? The book’s school setting is Jewish with racially diverse kids. Jennifer Naalchigar’s black-and-white, cartoon-style illustrations enliven the pages.

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