Simple stories will get kids jazzed for High Holy Days

The Jewish High Holy Days season means apples and honey, repentance, meals in the sukkah … and new children’s books to start off the school year.

Three offerings from Kar-Ben Publishing will enable kids ages 3 to 9 to experience Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and Simchat Torah through words and art.

“Sammy Spider’s First Simchat Torah,” written by Sylvia Rouss and illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn, is part of Kar-Ben Publishing’s Sammy Spider series, which includes more than 15 books.

“Sammy Spider’s First Simchat Torah,” suitable for ages 3 to 8, uses vibrant cut-paper illustrations reminiscent of Eric Carle, though Kahn’s are much less sophisticated and appealing. The story details how Josh loves to hear the story of the Torah over and over again, and how Sammy the Spider, who resides with his mother in a web in a corner of Josh’s ceiling, learns about the holiday as well.

Trouble ensues when Sammy gets stuck in Josh’s candy apple attached to his Simchat Torah flag. But Sammy twists himself off upon returning home after enjoying the celebration of the holiday at the synagogue. Children do learn more about the holiday through Sammy’s adventure.

In “Engineer Ari and the Sukkah Express,” written by Deborah Cohen and illustrated by Shahar Kober, Ari and two friends, Jesse and Nathaniel, build a sukkah

in his backyard. On his train route he makes friends and collects things for his sukkah. He is sad, though, because his new friends cannot join him in his prefabricated hut. So Jesse and Nathaniel secretly move the sukkah to Ari’s train, helping everyone to enjoy the portable holiday.

Both “Sammy Spider’s First Simchat Torah” and “Engineer Ari and the Sukkah Express,” suitable for ages 5 to 9, are overly didactic. They present the story of the holiday, but their delivery is forced. Young kids undoubtedly will not notice.

The strongest offering is Susan Schnur’s “Tashlich at Turtle Rock,” which she wrote with her daughter, Anna Schnur-Fishman. Schnur is a Reconstructionist rabbi and editor for Lilith, a Jewish women’s quarterly. Alex Steele-Morgan drew the book’s pictures.

This simple and highly readable first-person narrative focuses on the ecological connections to the tashlich ceremony and invites families, through the story of Annie and her family, to customize their own rituals, commune with nature and appreciate the slower rhythms of the world.

Annie leads her family on a tashlich ceremony and adventure through the woods past their favorite rocks, bridges and waterfalls as they shed their mistakes from the past year by throwing breadcrumbs into the water. The family also ponders the good they’ve done, and all pledge to continue helping themselves or in the community. For example, Annie’s brother Lincoln promises to increase his visits to an older gentleman in the neighborhood whose family lives in Mexico.

While “Sammy Spider’s First Simchat Torah” and “Engineer Ari and the Sukkah Express” are simplistic and even boring for adults, they will entertain young people. “Tashlich at Turtle Rock” will satisfy children of all ages in a deeper way. And it’s just in time for the blur of the High Holy Days.

“Sammy Spider’s First Simchat Torah” by Sylvia Rouss (32 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $7.95 softcover, $16.95 hardcover)

“Engineer Ari and the Sukkah Express” by Deborah Cohen (32 pages, Kar-Ben, $7.95 & $17.95)  “Tashlich at Turtle Rock” by Susan Schnur (32 pages, Kar-Ben, $7.95 & $17.95)

“Tashlich at Turtle Rock” by Susan Schnur  (32 pages, Kar-Ben, $7.95 & $17.95)

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.