Monday, March 22, 2010


I was reminded, through different blog and Twitter posts, that Passover begins next Tuesday after sundown next Monday (thanks to Kathy B for the correction). I've had this blog for several years, so I wasn't sure if I've ever blogged about our Passover books. Turns out that the answer is no! Let's rectify this, shall we? We'll start with picture books (fiction).

My favorite type of holiday books for children are the ones that are all-inclusive; they make both the observer and non-observer welcome. Holiday books for children can easily fall into the trap of making the observers of that holiday "Other" and exotic.

Roni Schotter's Passover books, Passover Magic and Passover! are perfect for both Jewish and non-Jewish children. Although both stories follow similar events (visiting relatives, cooking, praying, eating, hiding the matzoh), they are intended for different audiences. Passover Magic is written for children who can sit still for a longer story, while Passover! is great for younger children (and is told in rhyme). Schotter includes a helpful afterword for adult readers, but I think a glossary would have been a terrific addition. That's my only quibble with these sweet books.

The Magician's Visit, retold by Barbara Diamond Goldin, was originally written in 1904 by I.L. Peretz. Building on the custom of opening the door for and pouring a cup of wine for the Prophet Elijah during the Seder, The Magician's Visit is a touching and stirring story of a poor young couple unable to afford the traditional Passover feast, and the stranger who visits them and asks to be invited to their Seder. The illustrations lend themselves perfectly to the Old World feel of the story. This was named an Honor Book by the Jewish Book Council.

The Matzah That Papa Brought Home is probably my favorite Passover book in this group. Told in the familiar "This is the house that Jack built" storytelling technique, this is a gorgeous and detailed look at the Seder meal. Since it only focuses on the meal itself and not on any extraneous details that other Passover books may focus on (relatives arriving, adults cooking in the kitchen, etc), it goes into more sophisticated detail, such as the singing of Dayenu, dipping pinkies into wine while remembering the plagues, etc. Although the text is simple, this is suitable for all ages, since it includes very specific details about the Seder. Cheers to Fran Manushkin for including a *very* detailed glossary.

Let's take a look at our nonfiction books.

Passover Around the World is a neat blend of stories, facts, and recipes. This book is particularly appealing because it recognizes the fact that there are Jewish communities in places other than Israel and the United States. Through short stories, we meet Jewish children living in Turkey, India, Morocco, Ethiopia, and Gibraltar. We also meet a family of Jewish Iranian immigrants. Each story, which illustrates a Passover/Jewish custom unique to that country, is followed by short facts and a recipe. Further explanation of Passover customs, including customs from countries not profiled in the stories, more recipes, and a glossary round out this great book.

I've never been unimpressed with a children's book from National Geographic, and their Holidays Around the World series is no exception. In Celebrate Passover With Matzah, Maror, and Memories, we meet childen from many countries (not just the US, Israel, and Europe) and cultures celebrating Passover. The photographs, as you can expect, are highlights of the book.

Eric Kimmel's Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion is a treasure. Oh, it is magnificent. This is the type of book that families pull out year after year for the holiday. Poetry, short stories, and informative pieces (that are ideal for reading aloud) guide the readers through the 14 parts of the Seder. We learn the meaning of each food on the seder plate, the reason for drinking four cups of wine, dipping parsley, stories from the Torah, an original play about the plagues by Kimmel, and so much more. Art reproductions add to the feel of a family treasure. This is one not to be missed. And since it's by such a fabulous storyteller and folklorist, you know that it's a beautiful and fabulous read.

Barbara Diamond Goldin's The Passover Journey: A Seder Companion is also a very worthwhile addition to a Passover books collection. The companion is actually the sum of two parts: Goldin's retelling of the Exodus story and a guide through the 14 steps of the Seder. This is also a terrific read aloud; Goldin often addresses the reader as "we," which creates an intimate feeling between the author, reader, and audience.

I've been a Miriam Chaikin fan ever since I read her Finders Weepers books in elementary school (I recently reread them and they beautifully hold up as engrossing historical fiction set in WWII Brooklyn). Her Jewish holidays nonfiction books are also top picks for any collection, so I was delighted to find Ask Another Question: The Story and Meaning of Passover. Written for independent readers, Chaikin retells the Exodus story, explains how the Passover celebration started, and takes us through the various customs and observances of Passover. Well worth a read.

For young children, Lynne Sharon Schwartz's The Four Questions is a look at the four questions asked by the youngest child (who's able to ask the questions) during the Seder. The questions are written in both English and Hebrew.

Although not specifically focused on Passover, my favorite general Jewish holidays book is Dance, Sing, Remember (this is a link to my review).

Finally, our newest Passover book is quite unique (it's a picture book, but I wanted to save it for last). The Yankee at the Seder tells of a chance encounter with a Jewish northern soldier and a Jewish Confederate Virginia family. Although ten year old Jacob is fiercely anti-Yankee, it is a tradition to have guests at the Seder meal, so the soldier is welcomed to the Seder. The meal turns interesting when the soldier and Jacob's father debate the meaning of the Exodus story: victory over a tyrannical government or freedom from slavery? This story, handed down from generations, is a special and remarkable historical fiction picture book for older children.

We have several other Passover books, but these books are the more exceptional ones. Enjoy!


Kathy B. said...

You have certainly covered most of my favorite "inclusive" Passover books. Excellent post. One small reminder, while Tuesday, March 30 is the first Day of Passover, the first Seder is at sundown on Monday evening, March 29 which is when Passover officially begins. The interesting thing about Jewish time is that holidays begin the evening before.

Jennifer Schultz said...

Kathy-thank you for commenting on my Passover post! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for letting me know about when the first Seder begins (I'm not Jewish, so I've never observed Passover). I get it; Sabbath begins sundown on Friday, so I understand how that works!