Imaginative retellings and timely updates of venerable stories shine among this season's new Jewish books for kids and their families.
Barbara Diamond Goldin's "Bat Mitzvah: A Jewish Girl's Coming of Age" (139 pages, Viking, $14.99, illustrated by Erika Weihs) and Eric A. Kimmel's "Bar Mitzvah: A Jewish Boy's Coming of Age" (143 pages, Viking, $14.99, illustrated by Erika Weihs) are designed to prepare contemporary children for their bar and bat mitzvahs. Each gives a history of the ceremony and a careful description of what all participants do, as well as advice on how to get ready for this major event in a youngster's life. Both books offer comments, memories and warnings from real-life kids who have already undergone the ordeal. Goldin also provides a brief history of Jewish women and the story of the first bat mitzvah.
Fran Manushkin's "Starlight and Candles: The Joys of the Sabbath" (unpaginated, Simon & Schuster, $15, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast) introduces younger readers to Shabbat with a simple story that includes most of the customs associated with the holiday. This book's highlight is Chwast's illustrations. Created with cutout paper and watercolor but reminiscent of graphic art from the '30s and '40s, they gently evoke Shabbat's special colors and moods.
Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, the first woman to be ordained by the Reconstructionist movement, has addressed the lack of good biblical stories for girls in "But God Remembered: Stories of Women from Creation to the Promised Land" (31 pages, Jewish Lights, $16.95, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen). Using the technique of midrash, telling a new story to explain another, Sasso expands on four biblical passages. Sasso develops full stories around barely-mentioned female figures, providing details that bring the character to life. Delicately colored illustrations that look like ancient wall paintings enhance each story.
Author-illustrator Mark Podwal retells an ancient legend in "Golem, a Giant Made of Mud" (unpaginated, Greenwillow Books, $15). The richly colored illustrations evoke the magical world of 16th-century Prague. The text tells the story of Rabbi Judah Loew, who befriended the emperor and was believed to have created a clay creature to protect the Jews.
Award-winning author Joan Nathan has updated her delightful 1987 cookbook, "The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen: 70 Ways to Have Fun with Your Kids and Make Your Family's Celebrations Special" (157 pages, Schocken, $18, illustrated by Brooke Scudder). She provides 20 additional recipes and some new takes on old ones, especially in light of recent interest in healthier, lower-fat foods. Attractive design and layout and Scudder's sprightly new drawings make the book fun to use.
All books are available for circulation at the Bureau of Jewish Education's Jewish Community Library (601-14th Ave., S.F.) in the Havas Children's Library. The Jewish Community Library is part of the bureau's educational resource center.