A Rosh Hashanah apple cake bake-off fit for reality television and another installment in the Scarlet and Sam series from award-winning author Eric A. Kimmel are among the highlights in the crop of new High Holiday books for children.
The books seize the spirit of the Jewish holidays and the excitement and anticipation of beginning anew, reflecting on the past, and celebrating the warmth and joy of Jewish traditions with family and friends.
Rosh Hashanah this year begins on the night of Sunday, Sept. 29.
“Once Upon an Apple Cake: A Rosh Hashanah Story,” for ages 7 to 10, is the debut children’s book by author Elana Rubinstein. It’s the zany, charming story of the meaning of family and the strength of Jewish tradition (not to mention a terrific recipe, too). It’s a humor-filled, heartwarming chapter book in which readers meet Saralee, an endearing 10-year-old Jewish girl whose cute-looking nose possesses the unusual superpower to sniff out scents and flavors.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, Saralee, whose family owns a restaurant, is excited to bake her grandfather’s popular apple cake with a mystery ingredient that even Saralee can’t figure out. But then a new family opens a restaurant and threatens to take over the apple cake business.
When zayde bumps his head, he temporarily forgets the secret to the cake. Will Saralee rise to the occasion and win a contest judged by a famous food critic? More than anything, Saralee wishes that her grandfather returns home from the hospital for Rosh Hashanah.
The cartoon illustrations by Jennifer Naalchigar add zest to Rubinstein’s efforts. The recipe is included at the end of the book.
“Whale of a Tale,” listed as being for ages 6 to 10 even though it’s 152 pages, provides a modern-day riff on the biblical Book of Jonah read aloud in synagogues on Yom Kippur, preaching forgiveness over revenge. Kimmel, a master storyteller, adds his laugh-out-loud wit and light touch to this ancient and intriguing story.
It starts with brother and sister twins offering to take Grandma Mina’s centuries-old carpet to be cleaned. Engrossed in conversation with a mysterious driver from a ride-hailing service, they forget the prized carpet (with its aura of magic) that their grandmother brought with her as she fled tyranny in her native Iran.
Suddenly they find themselves transported to Jaffa in ancient Israel amid carpet sellers in the shuk. They stow away on a ship, where they reunite with their driver, Jonah, whom they learn is the biblical prophet. The stormy caper shines with references to the biblical tale, as the kids and Jonah go overboard and are swallowed up in the slimy belly of a big fish. With fierce determination, the clever kids prod the reluctant Jonah to travel to Nineveh, to be faithful to God and justice, and to speak out to the ruthless Assyrian king.
“Shanah Tovah, Grover!” is a 12-page board book by Joni Kibort Sussman for ages 1 to 4. Grover, Big Bird and other beloved Sesame Street characters welcome Rosh Hashanah with honey and apples, a shofar and a festive meal with songs and blessings. The simple verse is perfect for reading aloud to little ones and for preschoolers eager to read on their own. The colorful, delightful illustrations are by veteran Sesame Street artist Tom Leigh.
“Creation Colors” is a gloriously illustrated picture book of papercut art for ages 2 to 5. Author Ann D. Koffsky, who also wrote “Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor,” presents the biblical story of creation through the prism of color: from separating light from dark to the bubbling blues of the water, to the yellows of the sun, and the stripes and spots of the animals. After God created the first two people, a world full of people of all shades and hues followed.
This simple, lyrically told story is perfect for Simchat Torah, the joyful festival at the end of the High Holidays that anticipates the start of the new cycle of the weekly Torah reading that unfolds with Genesis.
“Jackie and Jesse and Joni and Jae,” for ages 3 to 8, looks at the tradition of tashlich, the custom during Rosh Hashanah of tossing crumbs or other small objects into moving water to symbolically cast away mistakes from the past year. On a crisp fall day, four good friends stroll hand-in-hand toward the river clutching small bags of sliced bread, following their rabbi and neighbors. Kids will relate as the friends recall misdeeds, like when Jae shared Jackie’s secret.
Chris Barash’s lovely rhyming verse comes to life with cartoon-like drawings in warm autumn tones of browns, orange and green. On the closing page, the friends are seen from behind, walking home, again hand in hand — a palpable reminder of the power of asking for and extending forgiveness, a theme central to the High Holidays.
“The Elephant in the Sukkah” by Sherri Mandell is for ages 3 to 8. It’s about a young boy named Ori and Henry, a lively elephant who was a circus before being sent to a farm for old elephants (where no one sings or has fun). When Henry wanders out one evening, he is enchanted by the joyful music and singing he hears from the Brenner’s family sukkah. After a few nights, he even learns the Hebrew words.
Young Ori hears Henry singing along outside the sukkah and is determined to find a way to bring the animal inside to fulfill the mitzvah of welcoming guests. The boy’s surprising solution shines with kid-friendly inventive thinking. Wearing a red-checkered shirt and small black cap, Henry tries every which way to squeeze into the sukkah. And on an author’s page, readers discover that the out-of-the-ordinary idea of elephants in a sukkah crossed the legalistic minds of the Talmud rabbis.