Five fabulous fables for fledgling readers
Jewish Book Month

Five fabulous fables for fledgling readers

In this year’s celebration of heritage and literature, the children’s genre features well-rounded stories embracing challenge, diversity and history

November is Jewish Book Month, for the whole family. (iStock photos from Getty images)
November is Jewish Book Month, for the whole family. (iStock photos from Getty images)

BOSTON — It’s been more than 90 years since Fanny Goldstein, a trailblazing Jewish librarian in Boston’s immigrant neighborhoods, set up a display of Judaica books in the Boston Public Library’s West End branch, launching what would become Jewish Book Week. The Jewish Book Council, based in New York City, is at the forefront of promoting the expanded Jewish Book Month, celebrated annually during the month before Hanukkah to promote the diverse array of Jewish literature for readers of all ages.

In today’s vibrant world of children’s literature, there are scores of books with Jewish subjects, themes or characters that appeal to readers of all backgrounds. Check out these outstanding new titles that will have young readers eager to return to them again and again.

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love
Michelle Edwards; illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Schwartz & Wade Books (ages 4-7)

Award winning children’s writer Michelle Edwards (“Chicken Man,” “Max Makes a Cake,”) delivers a charmer of a story that will warm hearts and heads.

Sophia is a young girl who wants to help Mrs. Goldman, her beloved neighbor who knits hats for everyone. Mrs. Goldman teaches the young girl to knit and how to make pom poms that Mrs. Goldman sews on top of all the hats. But on their chilly wintertime walks, Sophia notices Mrs. Goldman is shivering because she gave her own hat away to Mrs. Chen.

Cover, 'A Hat for Mrs. Goldman' by Michelle Edwards; illustrated by G. Brian Karas. (Courtesy)
Cover, ‘A Hat for Mrs. Goldman’ by Michelle Edwards; illustrated by G. Brian Karas. (Courtesy)

After trying hard to knit a hat by herself, Sophia finds the perfect solution and surprises Mrs. Goldman with her one-of-a-kind creation. The story about friendship weaves Jewish culture and values seamlessly into the story about a young girl whose family is of Mexican descent and her Jewish neighbor.

Brian Karas’s lively, expressive illustrations couldn’t pair more perfectly with the text. With the slightest gestures and lines, the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book winner (“Are You Gong to Be Good?”) captures Sophia’s delights and frustrations as she knits and knits and knits. In another scene, when Sophia finishes
knitting a hat, her cheers of joy nearly shout out from the page.

While this is a work of fiction, there is a real-life Mrs. Goldman, Edwards told The Times of Israel. She’s dedicated to book to her friend Katherine Goldman, of St. Paul, Minnesota. For Edwards, Sophia’s mitzvah is doing something difficult. “It’s not just a deed. Sophia stretches herself.” The book, which received a trio of starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, includes child-friendly instructions to make the hat and pom-poms!

Cover of 'Joseph the Dreamer' by Becky Laff. (Courtesy)
Cover of ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ by Becky Laff. (Courtesy)

Joseph the Dreamer
Becky Laff
Kar-Ben (ages 5-9)

A lively retelling of the ancient biblical story of Joseph the dreamer and his multicolored coat in fun-to-read graphic-comic book style. In Laff’s brightly illustrated anthropomorphic version, Joseph and his family are depicted as rabbits. Pharaoh and the Egyptians are sphnix-like felines.

Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup
Pamela Mayer, illustrations by Deborah Melmon
Kar-Ben (ages 4-9)

Here’s another endearing inter-generational story, this one with a girl named Sophie who is caught in the middle between her two doting grandmas. Her Jewish Bubbe makes children soup with dumplings called kreplach.

Detail from 'Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup,' by Pamela Mayer, with illustrations by Deborah Melmon. (Courtesy)
Detail from ‘Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup,’ by Pamela Mayer, with illustrations by Deborah Melmon. (Courtesy)

Her Chinese grandma, whom she calls Nai Nai, makes chicken soup with dumplings called wonton (and to their surprise, she uses kosher chicken). Sophie sets out to bring the two warring chicken soup grandmas together in this fun story that will have kids laughing. Deborah Melmon’s brightly colored illustrations add just the right lively and colorful ingredients to the endearing story of multicultural Jewish family life. The back pages include recipes.

Yosef’s Dream
Sylvia Rouss, with Ambassador Asher Naim; illustrated by Tamar Blumenfeld
Apples and Honey Press (ages 6-10)

In a welcome addition to the world of Jewish children’s books, award winning author Sylvia Rouss (author of the popular “Sammy Spider” series), has penned a fable-like tale inspired by the captivating real-life story of Ethiopian Jews who uprooted themselves from the country where they lived for thousands of years to build new lives in Israel. The story is told through the eyes of Yosef, who, as a young boy, lived in a village in Ethiopia with his Jewish family.

Cover, 'Yosef's Dream' by Sylvia Rouss, with Ambassador Asher Naim; illustrated by Tamar Blumenfeld. (Courtesy)
Cover, ‘Yosef’s Dream’ by Sylvia Rouss, with Ambassador Asher Naim; illustrated by Tamar Blumenfeld. (Courtesy)

Jews lived in Ethiopia for thousands of years, but were treated as if they were different, he says in the book that harkens to the biblical story of Joseph. In a dream, Yosef envisions an eagle who offers to carry him away to a new home. Later, that image comes to life when a plane swoops down from the late night skies in a rescue mission to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

In an author’s note, Rouss writes that she co-wrote the fictionalized story with Asher Naim, who was Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia in the 1990s during the negotiations that led to Operation Solomon which brought 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Tamar Blumenfeld’s striking collage-like illustrations bring Yosef’s world to life in scenes that depict Jewish village life and portray a beautiful landscape with gazelle, hippos and grazing sheep. Kids get a taste of Ethiopian culture and its food including the baking of Ethiopian bread called injera.

“Yosef’s Dream,” can spark conversation about what it means and looks like to be Jewish in today’s diverse world.

Cover of 'Babel,' Story by Marc Lumer, Chaim Burston and DovBer Naiditch; art by Marc Lumer. (Courtesy)
Cover of ‘Babel,’ Story by Marc Lumer, Chaim Burston and DovBer Naiditch; art by Marc Lumer. (Courtesy)

Story by Marc Lumer, Chaim Burston and DovBer Naiditch; art by Marc Lumer
Apples & Honey Press (ages 4-8)

The biblical story of Babel springs into action for today’s young readers in this updated version of the captivating tale where a unified ancient nation speaking in one language sets out to build a tower so high that it will reach the heavens.

The creative team of writers and artist Marc Lumer deliver the story in lean prose which serve as the backdrop for Lumer’s lively animation-style illustrations that are like theatrical sets for an epic movie. Kids are seen playing tower games and eating tower cakes. Later in the story, when the people grow too arrogant, God sends an angel to replace their one language with many different ones, making it hard to communicate and creating confusion.

Kids will have fun reading the humorous word bubbles that pop up in French, Spanish, Hebrew, English, Chinese and Russian (with English translations). Even chickens get in on the action. In the end, the people recognize that they are a small part of a bigger world and the story wraps up with an open end, in a multilingual world with people searching out new valleys to call home.

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