How about preparing the children for the seder as carefully as you prepare the gefilte fish? Passover (and any holiday) takes on more meaning if a parent or grandparent demonstrates its significance by personally sharing children’s books on the background of the upcoming festivities. And since Passover is one of the only two Jewish holidays that almost every year sees a new crop of titles, we should take advantage. Be careful though, sometimes these calendar-driven books can be very misleading. For instance, Ideal Publishing put out “A Passover Book for Jewish Children” some years ago, which began innocuously enough but ended focused on a very unexpected seder, the Last Supper.
Here you’ll find some holiday titles, totally kosher l’Pesach:
For the youngest children:
Lotsa Matzah by Tilda Balsley, illus. by Akemi Gutierrez. (Kar-Ben Publishing, $5.95). A rhyming board book for toddlers, this 12-page charmer makes its way to their hearts through the stomach, introducing Passover’s traditional food presented and enjoyed in many different ways. Tasty and fun.
Grover and Big Bird’s Passover Celebration by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer, illus. by Tom Leigh (Kar-Ben Publishing, $16.95). A Shalom Sesame book that has the Sesame Street crowd in Israel eager to celebrate the first seder at Brosh’s house. But they’re running late, continually delayed by stopping to perform mitzvot. The story and meaning of Passover are woven in, as are introductory words in Hebrew. Even grouchy Moishe Oofnik performs a mitzvah, grudgingly giving the group a lift in his old truck to get them there in time for the Four Questions. Naturally, he stays to enjoy the seder and three helpings of bitter herbs, his favorite.
What Am I? Passover, by Anne Margaret Lewis, joins the “My Look and See Holiday Book Series” (Albert Whitman & Co., $9.99), as the first Jewish holiday added to their popular Christmas, Easter and Halloween books for very young children. Brightly illustrated by Tom Mills, it features a series of simple holiday-related riddles on pages designed with flip-up flaps and brief explanations of symbols and the main components of the seder. Perfect for ages 2 through 4.
A Sweet Passover by Leslea Newman, illus. by David Slonim (Abrams, $16.95). A delicious read-aloud for 4-8 year olds who may well relate to young Miriam. By the final day of Passover, she has had it with matzoh and refuses to eat another bite. As in many lovable stories about family traditions and Jewish cooking, the older generation (in this case, Grandpa) comes to the rescue with his out-of-this-world “Passover French Toast.” His “shayneh maideleh” cannot resist and neither will you. The illustrations are humorous and a super matzoh brei recipe is included, as well as a glossary of Passover terms. Newman, a fine writer of children’s books, has done it again.
Sarah’s Passover by Lisa Bullard, illus. by Constanza Basaluzzo (Milbrook Press/Lerner Pub, $6.95). Mini-chapters with lively cartoonish pictures move this Cloverleaf Books “Holidays and Special Days” work along briskly, providing a lot of information in its four sections and supplementary material. From the preparation of house and food, to the seder, to the meaning of the holiday, it emphasizes fun and freedom. Back matter includes a pillowcase project, a glossary, and a list of resources.
The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman, illus. by Paul Meisel (Holiday House, $6.95). This entertaining Pesadika spin on a favorite old tale follows the hardworking little red hen as she plants, harvests, shleps and grinds the wheat, cooks the dinner and bakes the matzoh for the holiday, all without a bit of help from her friends. Will they work? Oy, no. But, will they eat? You bet. Will she forgive and feed them? The author includes a quote from the Haggadah, a matzoh recipe, a note on Passover traditions, plus a glossary of Yiddish words. A matchmaker couldn’t have found a better companion to this kosher l’Pesach version than Meisel’s rollicking artwork, created with ink, watercolor and pastel.
For any age
Matzah Mishugas: Eight Passover Tales (Light Publications, $14.95; ebook, $9.95). Part of the “Chelm Series” by Mark Binder, self-proclaimed author, storyteller, and nice guy. This former editor of the Rhode Island Jewish Voice-Herald wrote the first Chelm story of the series to fill space when a contributor didn’t meet a deadline. It was well received and, in true Chelm fashion, things just got out of hand after that. Only in Chelm would lead sinker matzoh balls save the village from a flood; only there would a knock on the door on Pesach bring in not Elijah, but a surprise visit by Mark Twain. Great for family reading aloud.
The Longest Night: a Passover Story by Laurel Snyder, illus. by Catia Chien (Schwartz & Wade Books, $17.99). This a unique Pesach picture book is told in verse (not usually my favorite approach) and richly illustrated with absorbing acrylic paintings. This young girl lives in Egypt through the time of slavery and into the time of Exodus. “Every morning with the light / Came another day like night./ In the heat and blowing sand/ Each gray dawn my work began.” A book as real as the hard labor the children perform, as unreal to today’s children as the mysterious events that begin, are seen but never understood. A river running red? Frogs, fleas, and then, worst of all, wolves! Each of the plagues is depicted and the people endure until the longest night, the night of the marked doorposts.
Poetic, evocative; by using the child’s viewpoint, this work makes us truly remember as if we were there. And remember, too, that even today, in many places, children are not free. Recommended by the publisher for reading to ages 4 to 8, but consider using it with older kids and teens as an opener for some interesting conversations at the seder table.