Books introduce kids to holidays with whimsy and humor

A quartet of lively picture books about bees, rude vegetables, breakfast in a sukkah and a Shabbat princess offer parents great literary gift options for the Jewish New Year.

Because my 51⁄2-year-old, Maya, recently started kindergarten and is now professionally literate, I forced, er, asked her to help me review the books.

Two are suitable for Rosh Hashanah because they deal with festive foods. “What’s the Buzz?” by Allison Ofanansky with photographs by Eliyahu Alpern, is about a group of Israeli children, who appear to be 8 or 9, visiting a bee farm to learn about bees, hives and honey.

Maya liked the pictures of bees, but the book is more appropriate for kids closer to 7 or 8. “What’s the Buzz?” gives an excellent, step-by-step introduction to how bee farmers harvest honey made from the hard labor of girl bees and the queen. Even though the text was above her head, Maya enjoyed the photographs, which enhance the text.

The book also teaches about other by-products of the honeycomblike beeswax.

Maya was struck by one point in the text when the farmer, Yigal, explains that the girl bees and the queen do all the work and the boy bees basically sip honey and hope to marry the queen.

“Only the girl bees do the work,” she said. “The boy bees should, too.”

The second book for Rosh Hashanah is “Talia and the Rude Vegetables,” written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated with larger-than-life drawings by Francesca Assirelli. City-dweller Talia, who is about 8, visits her rural grandmother before Rosh Hashanah. The grandmother is preparing her special stew and asks Talia to bring her seven root vegetables from the garden. Talia is perplexed as to why her grandmother wants “rude” vegetables, but obliges her in this whimsical tale with an endearing appeal and a moral lesson.

Talia has time to ponder rudeness and do a mitzvah for the village rabbi before the end of the story, which is most suited for ages 4 to 8. The illustrations, which show adorably plump-headed and colorfully dressed characters balancing on spindly legs, complement the story well.

The third book is Sukkot-themed. In “Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast” by Jamie Korngold, illustrated by Julie Fortenberry, Sadie and her brother, Ori, wake up early to check on the status of their sukkah decorations. Then they decide to eat breakfast in the sukkah, but after lugging a nearly endless buffet of foods into the tabernacle, they realize they can’t invite anyone, as is the holiday custom, for everyone is still asleep.

The solution, which won’t surprise any parent, is sweet and logical. This story is definitely geared toward younger children and covers most of the basics a toddler-preschooler needs for an introduction to Sukkot.

Maya was effusive but brief in her praise of the book. “I really liked it.”

The last book, “The Shabbat Princess” by Amy Meltzer with illustrations by Martha Aviles, has nothing to do directly with the High Holy Days, but does offer a young heroine who joyfully enhances the celebration of a weekly holiday, the Sabbath.

Before I even read the book to her, Maya proclaimed it her favorite because it is about a princess. And then when the book’s main character, Rosie, declares that she, too, loves everything princess, Maya was ecstatic.

Rosie wonders why there is no Shabbat princess if there is a Shabbat Queen. Her parents provide no answers, but Rosie smartly races to her room and returns adorned as a princess befitting the weekly day of rest. With a gown, jewels and a tiara, she gradually encourages her parents to spruce up the weekly celebration by polishing the Kiddush cup, bringing out special silverware and laying a sparkly cover over the challah. Rosie teaches all of us about making Shabbat as special as possible for the Sabbath Queen and princesses among us.

The book is suitable for children 4 to 8, but I am not sure if boys older than 5 would appreciate a book about princesses. Maya loved it before, during and after our reading of it.

These four books are excellent, well-written, didactic in just the right way, and come with either engaging illustrations or photographs. Princess Maya and I agree they’d be welcome additions to the family library.

“What’s the Buzz?” by Allison Ofanansky, with photographs by Eliyahu Alpern (32 pages, Kar-Ben Publishers, $15.95, ages 4-8).

“Talia and the Rude Vegetables” by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Francesca Assirelli (24 pages, Kar-Ben, $16.95, ages 4-8).

“Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast”
by Jamie Korngold, illustrated by Julie Fortenberry (24 pages, Kar-Ben, $16.95, ages 2-6).

“The Shabbat Princess”
by Amy Meltzer, illustrated by Martha Aviles (32 pages, Kar-Ben, $17.95, ages 4-8).


Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.