Funny, you don’t look blue-ish…
Before we move away from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and out into the Seattle sukkahs we pray will not be too heavily rained upon, I have one last shortcoming to confess. I forgot to mention in the High Holidays roundup how enthusiastically Jewish the residents of Sesame Street have become, thanks to Kar-Ben’s partnership with Shalom Sesame. “The Count’s Hanukkah Countdown,” “It’s a Mitzvah, Grover,” and “Grover and Big Bird’s Passover Celebration” led the way. But this introspective month found Brosh baselessly suspicious, blaming Grover for stealing his favorite blue cap. His evidence? None except that his hat perfectly matches Grover’s fur. An apology is obviously called for after Grover rescues the cap Brosh had carelessly lost in the market and returns it to him. “I’m Sorry Grover: A Rosh Hashanah Tale,” by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer warns against spreading false accusations and leaves Brosh far more aware of others’ feelings. And now, into the hut.
Back to the booth
Susan Axe-Bronk’s “The Vanishing Gourds: a Sukkot Mystery” brought back vividly the days in Southern California when we planted a major gourd garden to decorate our vastly oversized sukkah without extravagantly wasting edible fruits and vegetables. Though they got their gourds from a farm, Sara’s family, like ours, loved everything about Sukkot, especially trimming with the brightly colored and variously shaped gourds. Then, yellow, orange and green, they begin to mysteriously disappear.
Little children will enjoy learning who the culprits are and how they repay Sara the following year for what they have taken. Gratitude for the harvest, compassion for animals, and understanding of the cycle of nature are all found in this simple tale, brightly illustrated by Marta Monelli.
Another simple Sukkot story is “Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast” by Jamie Korngold, softly and charmingly illustrated by Julie Fortenberry. Sadie and little Ori decide to have breakfast in the family’s beautiful sukkah, so they load up a tray with all they need, only to discover that sometimes carrying a little at a time works best. When they are finally ready to eat, nobody else is awake, so they fulfill the mitzvah of offering hospitality in the sukkah by imaginatively surrounding themselves with wonderful and much-loved friends. A warm and basic story for the very young.
Sylvia A. Rouss, an early childhood educator, can be counted on for creative approaches to almost every Jewish theme. After all, how many authors explain Jewish holidays through the awareness of a curious little Spider named Sammy, who this year celebrates his 20th year in print? Though Rouss and her collaborator Shannan Rouss did not include Sammy in their latest book, “A Watermelon in the Sukkah,” it offers an entertaining twist on the usual carrot- and grape-laden booth.
No gourds here: All the kids in young Michael’s class have agreed to decorate their sukkah by each one bringing his or her favorite fruit. Michael is especially excited because his favorite by far is… a watermelon. What to do? How to hang it? His teacher accommodates his choice, and his class enjoys trying to solve the problem while learning about the holiday and its celebration in the process. When Michael finally figures out a solution that works, illustrator Ann Iosa’s bright and happy pictures capture the humor of Michael’s inventive solution, which may inspire kids of any age to get inventive on their own.
“Sukkot Treasure Hunt” by Allison Ofansky is set in Israel, and well-illustrated with photographs by Eliyahu Alpern. It follows a family living in Tzfat as they build their sukkah and then set out to find, not buy, the “four species” they will use in celebration. Pictures and words combine to give an overview of Israel’s timeless natural environment, flora and fauna, as family members find not just the four sought-after species but grapevines, pomegranates, dates and a wonderful adventure.
The author and her family are involved in environmental and “eco-peace” projects and those with similar interests should especially enjoy this work and its illustrations.
On saving the earth
Two older titles also address ecology, one general and the other about Israel, neither specifically on Sukkot. Not for children but for families who would like to use their time in the sukkah to explore green ideas, you might look for “Ecology & the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet,” a crossover work emphasizing a spiritual approach to its ecological message. Experts from all branches of Judaism, from Orthodox to secular, have contributed to this excellent resource, well worth adding to your bookshelf for year-round use.
“Listen to the Trees: Jews and the Earth,” a work for middle graders, by Seattle’s own Molly Cone (who is also one of the authors of “Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State”) uses Torah texts and traditional Jewish stories to present an exploration of ecology and the interconnectedness of all life on earth.