New batch of kids books explore hamantaschen, Jewish life

A skunk wields a grogger and a raccoon rolls out the hamantaschen dough. Is it a haunting Purim movie from the mystical mind of Tim Burton?

No, it’s a kids’ board book with Barb Bjornson’s whimsical illustrations, just in time for the story of Esther and Mordechai.

“When It’s Purim,” written by Edie Stoltz Zolkower, is a cute, rhyming story about forest animals preparing hamantaschen. Suitable for ages 1 to 4, the book might also complement a parent’s efforts to prepare hamantaschen for mishloach manot (gifts) for family and friends.

It’s an entertaining tale about sharing our bounty with others, with a nice, repetitive rhythm that can be read repeatedly to the family’s youngest members.

Zolkower’s book is part of Kar Ben Publishing’s series to introduce young children to Jewish life, holidays and Shabbat.

Next up is “Where Shabbat Lives” by Jan Goldin Fabiyl, with illustrations from Sue Rama that are more muted than “When It’s Purim.”

Also for young children, “Where Shabbat Lives” gets off to a good start in explaining where Shabbat lives: at home, at synagogue and in all we do. But the last page and the accompanying illustrations were confusing.

My guess is a young child (this book is recommended for infants and preschoolers) won’t care and will be content enough just to hear the story while perched on your lap.

“Goodnight Sh’ma” is a dreamy story with a perfectly paced rhyming pattern and softened drawings that will introduce the Sh’ma to young children. It’s a perfect nighttime story of thanks to God for our wonderful world.

Written by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations from Melanie Hall, the book is about a Jewish child getting ready for bed and saying the traditional Sh’ma prayer. The story enables parents to bring prayer to their youngsters without the kids even knowing they are doing something spiritual. I call it the Life Cereal Syndrome: Kids think it just “tastes great,” but it is also good for them.

“Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story” goes to the next level in that it’s a 32-page paperback.

Written by Deborah Bodin Cohen and illustrated by the award-winning Jago, this is another retelling of the Passover story, this time from the

perspective of Nachshon, leaderof the tribe of Judah and brother-in-law of Aaron. According to rabbinic lore, Nachshon was the first Israelite to dip his toes into the Sea of Reeds.

The story, recommended for 4- to 8-year-olds, is simple and heartfelt. Jago’s minimalist pictures and brilliant use of color and perspective are powerful.

But Cohen, a rabbi and educator from Cherry Hill, N.J., commits a mistake commonly found in kids’ picture books. Her text is stilted and unnatural. Nachshon, a brave Israelite slave who spies on Pharoah and the Egyptians for the Israelite elders, is afraid of swimming. Moses counsels him, in language too didactic for children, that “real freedom means trusting in God. Real freedom means believing in yourself.”

Great advice, but it would’ve been more effective if woven  naturally into the story.

Still, if you want to add another Passover book to your collection, you might give this a try.

“When It’s Purim” by Edie Stoltz Zolkower ($5.95, Kar Ben Publishing, 12 pages).

“Where Shabbat Lives” by Jan Goldin Fabiyi, ($5.95, Kar Ben Publishing, 12 pages).

“Goodnight Sh’ma” by Jacqueline Jules, ($5.95, Kar Ben Publishing, 12 pages).

“Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story” by Deborah Bodin Cohen, ($8.95, Kar Ben Publishing, 32 pages).


Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.