Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Don’t you just love a good book?

There’s nothing like curling up on a chilly winter day in a warm fuzzy blanket and losing yourself in the pages of a well written book, except maybe watching your kid curling up on a chilly winter day in their warm fuzzy blanket and losing themselves in the pages of a well written book. It’s not just that having children who love to read will buy you some well deserved quiet time – as every self-respecting teacher will tell you, getting kids to enjoy reading offers tremendous academic benefits that will serve them well, both in school and throughout their lives. And with so many new books hitting the shelves every year for kids of all ages, there is no better time than now to check out the latest releases from ArtScroll (A), Feldheim (F), Hachai (H) and Menucha (M), just in time for Chanukah gift giving.

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Read Aloud Story Books

My all time favorite character in the world of Jewish books is back again, learning another valuable lesson in Shimmy Shambone Will NOT Share His Toys! (F). Yael Zoldan’s irrepressible Shimmy comes across as lovable and relatable even when he isn’t at his best, and this is yet another book in this series that you will be more than happy to read aloud over and over (and over) again. Ziggawat, the lumpy yellow creature crafted by Ahuva Weinberger to teach kids alef beis returns once more, this time in an adorable “Peek ‘n See” book offering great lessons for the younger set. Turning the pages in Ziggawat Asks Why No? (F) will have readers learning that things aren’t always what they seem at first glance as well as the importance of listening to adults whose perspective offers a clearer view of the big picture. I Have a Jewish Name (H) and I Kiss My Mezuza (H) both give your little cuties an appreciation for inherent parts of their lives, the well done rhymes explaining what mezuzas are all about and the potential meaning and history behind their names. It’s hard for any of us to imagine our gedolim as children, but looking at them through that prism is a great way to help kids connect with these prominent personalities. In My First Baal Shem Tov Book (H), the father of chasidus becomes approachable in a delightful way, teaching children to conquer their fears by remembering that Hashem is always with them. Kudos to both Feldheim and Hachai for appreciating that tiny tots aren’t always the most gentle of creatures when it comes to turning pages and printing these books with this age group in mind, with sturdier than average paper in the Ziggawat book and laminated pages in all the rest.

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Pre-Readers

Outstanding illustrations and powerful messages make Thanks to You for Everything You Do (A) an excellent choice, reminding kids to express their gratitude to those who are there for them, from family members to the bus driver and even the cleaning girl. If you’ve ever had a young son, you know that one fine fall day he is going to ask for an esrog of his very own. Ezzy’s Esrog (F) addresses this very situation with the main character working hard to prove his maturity and responsibility and learning an important lesson about himself along the way. Imaginations will soar as your kids make their way through the beautifully illustrated pages of Sarah Dreamer (A) and realize that the opportunities to use their individual talents and maximize their potential are endless. Living Shabbos (A) is one of those great books whose stories are short enough for the younger set, but have enough depth for kids who are already reading on their own. Based on Rabbi David Sutton’s book for adults by the same name about imbuing the most special day of the week with inspiration and meaning, Living Shabbos is a collection of 20 short stories that reminds readers that while it may come every week without fail, Shabbos is a precious gift that should never be taken for granted.

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Early Readers

The Shikufitzkys have been entertaining readers in cartoon format for years, but author Shifra Glick takes a walk on the literary side in Bentzi and the Museum Mystery (F), where humor, intrigue and family all come together in a fun book, punctuated with pithy comments by big sister Batya. Bentzi’s quest to become buddies with a new boy in his building doesn’t quite go exactly as planned, but a missing dreidel and a friendship with an elderly neighbor put a new spin on the situation and by the time the last chapter has ended Bentzi is smiling and I suspect your young reader will be too. What can I possibly say about The Life and Limericks of Moishy Mittleman (M)? Surely I wasn’t the intended audience for this chapter book, but I couldn’t stop following the adorable antics of 11-year-old Moishy whose creativity will have readers hooked as he figures out that black pepper doesn’t cure hiccups even if you eat an entire spoonful, baby powder is a bad idea in a birthday cake and that no matter how hard you try, you can’t reschedule your cousin’s bris in order to have a chance to ride the One And Only Ten Story Zen Glory Solar Toaster Roller Coaster, also known as the O.A.O.T.S.Z.G.S.T.R.C.

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Older Readers

Valuable social skills come alive in a big way in Making Choices: An Anti-Bullying Adventure (F), a choose-your-own-adventure style book that has readers helping Yael deal with a classmate who picks on her unfairly. The narrative shows kids how different responses can play out, demonstrating socio-emotional skills that can help them in their own day to day lives. Fans of the Rebbe Mendel series will be excited for volume 12, The Case of the Rashi Scroll (F), which takes readers on a journey that spans both time and continents, with plenty of intrigue, mystery and danger to spice things up. Chanukah comes to life for kids like never before in Eight Special Nights (F), a historical adventure and part of the Naftali in the Beis HaMikdash series that has them experiencing persecution by the Greeks, seeing the Maccabim emerging victorious and searching the Beis HaMikdash for oil to light the menorah and seeing the flames burning miraculously for eight days and nights. Be sure not to miss the maps and diagrams that give readers the ability to visual the second Beis HaMikdash which really adds an extra dimension to this 216 page story.

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Graphic Novels

I confess – graphic novels really aren’t my thing, but I am clearly in the minority since my kids all love them and the fact that they have both words and pictures makes them appealing for a broad age range of kids. Avraham Ohayon is back again with two more volumes in his Titanic (F) series with A Formula for Danger continuing the saga of village boy Moshe Wallis who survives the Titanic and reconnects with his yiddishkeit in addition to miraculously striking it rich. Moshe goes on to build institutions of Torah and chesed and The Eye of the Storm has the now Rabbi Wallis drawing on his emunah and leadership skills to save his fellow Jews during World War II. Kids will have a newfound appreciation for Shmone Esrei after reading In The King’s Palace (F), the story of a class trip that takes an unexpected turn which includes a royal visit, paper airplanes, a lifetime prison sentence and, most importantly, an age appropriate understanding of this pivotal tefillah. Also proving that comics can have significant educational value is Larger Than Life (F), a collection of three short stories where lessons of days gone are as relevant as ever, teaching three boys the value of doing the right thing without ever being trite or preachy.

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Conversation Starters

Several books have been published in recent years that are great for sparking conversation at the Shabbos or dinner table and I was thrilled to see two written especially for kids. Let’s Talk Living Emunah (A) is adapted from Rabbi David Ashear’s Living Emunah series and this version offers great opportunities to get the whole family debating various scenarios that will open their eyes to seeing Hashem’s hand in their lives, while multiple sidebars in each story ask questions to take the discussions one step further. If you are looking for something more parsha oriented, Achas Sha’alti 2 (F) is a fabulous book, with two halachic conundrums presented each week that will have everyone in the family offering their psak. Concise age appropriate answers by Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein provide the final resolution and while there is a super short summary gives the psak in a single sentence, take a minute or two to read the details of how the answer was reached – more often than not those details are just as fascinating and educational as the original question.

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Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at sandyeller1@gmail.com.