By Penny Schwartz
BOSTON (JTA) — Miriam the Prophetess, Elijah the Prophet and the Four Questions take center stage among this spring’s crop of new Passover books for kids penned by some of today’s best writers.
The sparkling assortment includes stories by Jane Yolen, known as America’s Hans Christian Anderson; Leslea Newman, who garnered a Sydney Taylor Jewish Book Award for children’s literature for her lifetime body of work; and Naomi Ben-Gur, one of Israel’s most acclaimed and popular writers for children.
Other new reads take children to Passover celebrations with googly eyed alligators in the swamps of Florida, a zero-gravity seder with a space-traveling family, and back in time to an Old World village where scurrying mice with crusts of bread may upend the start of the eight-day holiday.
Passover, also known as the Festival of Freedom, begins this year on the evening of April 8.
Toddler board books, ages 1-4
The youngest ones are in for a lively time with these colorful books that introduce the foods and traditions of Passover.
“I Love Matzah”
Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili, illustrated by Angelika Scudamor
A young boy proudly shares all the delicious ways he likes to eat matzah. Rhyming words and bright, cartoon-like illustrations will keep kids hungry for the matzah treats.
Jessica Hickman, illustrated by Elissambura
Join the fun with a family of friendly Florida gators who are preparing for Passover in the Sunshine State. In rhyming verse they hunt for chametz, recite the Four Questions and crunch their matzah.
Preschool to older readers, ages 3-9
“The Passover Mouse”
Joy Nelkin Wieder; illustrated by Shahar Kober
Random House (ages 3-7)
This delightful tale inspired by a Talmudic passage features a white mouse carrying a piece of bread in its mouth scurrying from the home of a widow who has cleaned her home to make it chametz-free before the holiday. When the mouse races to the cobbler’s home, and we meet another mouse and a cat both with bread, the zaniness ensues.
Now the quarreling villagers race to the rabbi’s home and ask: Do we have to clean our homes again? A young boy finds the perfect solution.
Kids will be tickled by Nelkin Wieder’s delightful picture book. Kober, an award-winning Israeli illustrator, captures the frenzy of scurrying mice, bewildered villagers and the joy of community celebrations.
“Asteroid Goldberg: Passover in Outer Space
Brianna Caplan Sayres; illustrated by Merrill Rainey
Intergalactic Afikomen (ages 4-8)
When a space-traveling family’s rocket ship is delayed for landing right before the holiday, it’s no obstacle for the young daughter Asteroid, who fills the spaceship’s pantry with Passover food from the far reaches of the Milky Way: matzah balls from Jupiter’s moons and crunchy matzah from Saturn’s rings.
Rainey’s large, animated illustrations are a laugh-out-loud blast as Asteroid and her family fly around the zero gravity seder table. Even the matzah balls float. Relatives pop in from Mars and Venus. A back page includes a glossary and a link for information on Jewish astronauts.
“Who Will Ask the Four Questions?”
Naomi Ben-Gur; illustrated by Carmel Ben-Ami. Translated from Hebrew by Gilah Kahn-Hoffmann
Green Bean Books (ages 4-7)
In this endearing story, a young boy named Eitan is eagerly awaiting his family’s seder, when he will sing the Ma Nishtanah, the Four Questions, traditionally recited by the youngest in the family. But his little sister, Evie, insists it’s her turn for the honor. Eitan rejects Grandma Naomi’s suggestion that he help his sister learn the questions and tries to persuade Evie to change her mind. Will the quarreling siblings find a way to join their voices together?
Carmel Ben-Ami’s double-page spreads burst with high energy and expressive illustrations.
“Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale With a Tail”
Lesléa Newman; illustrated by Susan Gal
Charlesbridge (ages 5-8)
A young boy inside his warm and light-filled home celebrates the seder with his family and guests while outside, a small white kitten sits alone in the windy darkness of night. With each turn of this poetically written and beautifully illustrated book, the simple verse compares the joyful seder rituals and festivities inside with the lonely kitten outside. When it’s time to open the door to welcome Elijah, the boy’s favorite holiday ritual, he discovers the kitten meowing at his doorstep.
Gal’s large, gloriously colored illustrations reflect the story’s contrasts between inside and outside. Newman in the author’s note explains the custom of filling a cup of wine for Elijah and the holiday’s theme of welcoming guests.
“Miriam at the River”
Jane Yolen; illustrations by Khoa Le
Kar-Ben (ages 5-9)
Yolen, a master storyteller, will enchant a new generation of young readers with this imaginative, lyrical retelling of the biblical story of Miriam, the older sister of Moses. Set in ancient times along the banks of the Nile River, a 7-year-old Miriam finds the courage to save the life of her baby brother. The story sets the stage for the future of the Exodus story.
Le illustrates with swirls of color and ripples of water as the basket with baby Moses drifts past a lush landscape of storks and a hippopotamus. An author’s note gives the biblical background and explains the recurring ties between Miriam and water in the Exodus story.
By Penny Schwartz