January 18, 2019

Passover ‘On One Foot’: Books for kids

The newest Passover picture books for children include colorful depictions of holiday rituals, such as opening the door for Elijah, properly preparing for a family seder and the true meaning of “Dayenu.” One book is intended for older children who enjoy reading nonfiction, and one newly published springtime addition is a delightful retelling of a famous talmudic tale about the great Rabbi Hillel. 

“A Place for Elijah” by Kelly Easton Ruben. Illustrated by Joanne Friar. Kar-Ben, 2016.

Sarah sets the table for her family’s Passover seder and makes sure to leave an empty seat for Elijah. Although she wants to leave the door ajar for his visit, it’s simply too cold and windy outside. The illustrations, though a bit static, depict Sarah’s multicultural neighborhood of apartment buildings and small businesses below, such as a bagel shop, music store and flower shop. When the wind causes the lights across the street to go out, Sarah’s neighbors begin to appear at the door — including Mrs. Faaiz (the flower shop owner who wears a headscarf), Bagel Ben, Doughnut Dan and Music Man Miguel, who enters the house with his pet monkey on his shoulder. As the family makes room for each guest, Sarah worries that there is no longer a chair left for Elijah. Finally, when a hungry young neighborhood boy enters, he is invited in and Sarah asks his name. It is “Elijah,” he says, and the text continues: “Sarah smiles at the boy. You never know how Elijah comes; only that he does.” 

This is a welcome addition to Passover picture books for young children, primarily because of its focus on Elijah the Prophet. The multicultural characters add to the book’s appeal. The book also can serve as an educational guide, because the author effectively weaves into the story most of the traditional Passover teachings.

“Kayla and Kugel’s Almost-Perfect Passover” written and illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky. Apples & Honey Press, 2016.

Kayla and her dog, Kugel, make their second picture-book appearance in this simple Passover tale about a young girl preparing for her family’s seder. Kugel tries to help, in clumsy doggie fashion, but almost knocks over the grape juice, makes a crumbly matzo mess and generally gets in the way. He even steals the afikomen, but Kayla eventually finds it under his dog bowl. 

The modest story is aimed at introducing toddlers to the terms used for Passover. The expressive and amusing illustrations will keep the little ones entertained.

“More Than Enough” by April Halprin Wayland. Illustrated by Katie Kath. Dial, 2016.

“Dayenu is a reminder to be aware of and grateful for the blessings in each moment,” states the dedication page in this bright and beautifully illustrated Passover book for very young children (ages 3-5). Spring has arrived, and two children and their mom are at a farmers market shopping for ingredients for their seder. They purchase apples, walnuts, lilacs and honey — and also end up unexpectedly adopting a kitten. Upon arriving home, Dad helps them make charoset and dress for dinner. They attend a cheery seder at Nana’s house, ask the Four Questions, search for the afikomen, open the door for Elijah, and finally get to sleep over at Nana’s with their happily purring new pet. 

The title of the book is the translation of the word “dayenu” and mimics the famous seder song as it focuses the reader on the meaning of thankfulness that the holiday brings. After each event of the children’s day, they say “Dayenu,” and the reality of the blessings of each moment brings home the spirit of the holiday.

“Passover: Festival of Freedom” by Monique Polak. Photo-illustrated. Orca Books, 2016.

Realizing that there’s more to Passover than prayers and matzo, Canadian young-adult author Monique Polak spins her personal take on the holiday in this attractive nonfiction, photo-illustrated book for children in grades 4 and older. Although the first of the four chapters includes basic information about the holiday, the other chapters are quite unusual, particularly Chapter 2, which relates poignant memories of “Passover Before and After the Holocaust,” told by survivors now living in Montreal. The third and fourth chapters highlight the ways kids can perform social action work, and describe how seders are celebrated in various countries, including Israel, the Netherlands, China, Nepal, Italy, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Iraq and Morocco. A glossary as well as an excellent reference and resource guide round out the book.

“On One Foot” by Linda Glaser. Illustrated by Nuria Balaguer. Kar-Ben, 2016. 

The seder isn’t complete without eating a Hillel sandwich or two. But do kids really know anything about this revered rabbi other than the mixture of maror and charoset named after him? This new picture book is a satisfying retelling of an oft-told talmudic story regarding this first-century sage. It begins “long ago,” when a “somewhat foolish young man traveled to the ancient city of Jerusalem to study.” He decides he will find a “truly great teacher” to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot. He approaches several great rabbis who either fall on the ground laughing or glare at him with disdain, and his mood becomes sour. Then he behaves gruffly to a group of children before they lead him to Rabbi Hillel, “the wisest rabbi in all of Jerusalem.” Rabbi Hillel treats him kindly, and calmly says, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” The young man thinks for a while and says, “I don’t like to be insulted or scowled at. So I shouldn’t do that to other people?” Hillel responds, “I think that would be a good way to live,” and he invites the now “not-so-foolish” young man to become his student. 

Although this affecting story is well-known, this is perhaps its first picture-book treatment. The book is creatively illustrated with cut paper and fabric designs that cleverly incorporate photos and textured elements. Teachers and parents alike will appreciate the great message and fun illustrations in this book suitable for ages 5 and older.

Lisa Silverman is the Library Director of the Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University.