October 13, 2019

For the kids, beyond the questions

“A Sweet Passover” by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by David Slonim (Abrams: $16.95).

It turns out that little Miriam is not so different from the rest of us. By the final day of Passover, she gets sick of eating matzah and refuses to eat it ever again. Newman, a well-respected and prolific author of children’s books, created this heartwarming story about family traditions and Jewish cooking that would make a wonderful read-aloud for the 4- to 8-year-old set. When Grandpa prepares his famous matzah brei, which he also calls “Passover French toast,” Miriam finds it just a bit too hard to resist. “Essen in gezunt, shayneh maideleh” (eat in good health, pretty girl), he says. And she does. The humorous illustrations are a bit reminiscent of Charles Shultz and will amuse adults and children alike. A great matzah brei recipe is included, along with a useful glossary of Passover terms.

“What Am I? Passover” by Anne Margaret Lewis, illustrated by Tom Mills (Albert Whitman: $9.99).

The good folks from the “My Look and See Holiday Book Series” (previous topics: Christmas, Easter and Halloween) have now made the leap to Jewish holidays with this Passover book for very young children. Following the same format as the others, the bright and appealing thick cardboard pages contain a series of very simple holiday-related riddles. The flap can be easily lifted by children, who will enjoy guessing the answers that appear there in conjunction with brief explanations of Jewish terms. For example, “I am a mixture of apples, nuts and a little wine. I am tasty and sweet. What am I? What could I be? I am charoset on the Seder plate, that’s me!” The big, bright illustrations make this a must for an interactive Jewish preschool story hour and a sure hit with preschoolers everywhere. Kudos to the illustrator for depicting all the boys and men wearing kippot — a sight rarely seen in secular Jewish picture books.

“Izzy the Whiz and Passover McClean,” by Yael Mermelstein, illustrated by Carrie Hartman (Kar-Ben: $7.95).

Forget the candle and the feather — here is a charming book for children that tackles the topic of chametz cleaning through a feat of magical engineering. It’s a funny, rhymed tale of a whiz kid, named Izzy, who wants to give his harried mother a break from Passover cleaning. He invents a robot-like Passover cleaning machine that he names “Passover McClean” and then tells her to go rest while the machine does its work. (She complains she has a bit of a “bread-ache.”) With somewhat of a nod to Sylvester McMonkey McBean, Dr. Seuss’ “Fix-It-Up-Chappie” who invents a “star-off” machine, the author imagines young Izzy as the same sort of mechanical genius. At first his machine performs admirably, but by the time he lets it loose on the living room, Izzy finds it necessary to locate the emergency hatch and press the red button to set things right for Passover McClean. It’s an entertaining story with clever rhythm and wordplay, and appealing cartoonish illustrations. A simple author’s note at the end explains the concept of searching for chametz before Passover.

“The Elijah Door: A Passover Tale” by Linda Leopold Strauss, illustrated by Alexi Natchev (Holiday House: $16.95).

Feuding families live in “side-by-side houses in a small village that was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia” in this original folktale that may be destined to become a Passover classic. Shortly after the Galinskys swap two fat geese for six of the Lippas’ laying hens, the geese die, and thus a feud is born. Were they sick before the swap or was it an accident? Who knows? Now the families refuse to speak to one another, although they had shared the Passover seder for many years. Young friends Rachel Galinksy and David Lippa, whose future betrothal has been thwarted by this turn of events, defy their families — Romeo and Juliet style — and enlist the town’s clever rabbi in a sophisticated ruse to bring the families back together at Passover. An artist’s note explains that the elaborate hand-painted woodcuts were inspired by traditional Eastern European folk prints from the 18th and 19th centuries. A couple of full-page spreads at the end of the book are particularly impressive: One serves as a joyous glimpse into the bygone era of village life at Passover time, and the other radiates the simple pleasures of “all the town’s Jews gathered with the Galinskys and the Lippas in one great celebration of love and freedom and family.” This beautifully illustrated book presents a wisely told tale with a new spin on what opening the door for Elijah can really mean.

“Let My People Go!” adapted by Alison Greengard, illustrated by Carol Racklin-Siegel (EKS: $10.95).

The original biblical story of Moses, slavery, Pharoah and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt is suitably translated for children in this beautiful paperback adaptation. The English translation is placed below the large-type Hebrew text, and the colorful accompanying artwork is outstanding. All the titles in this series of Bible stories for children, including stories such as “In the Beginning,” “The Tower of Babel,” “Rebecca,” “Noah’s Ark,” “Lech Lecha,” “Jacob’s Travels,” “Joseph the Dreamer” and “The Brave Women Who Saved Moses,” feature full-color reproductions of beautiful silk paintings that enhance the text. The imaginative depiction of the Ten Plagues is especially noteworthy. At the back of the book, each title includes a literal translation of the biblical Hebrew and a useful glossary in both English and Hebrew.

Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and former children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine.