The joyous weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot takes center stage in a pair of delightful new children’s books that usher in the new Jewish year with the spirit of the holidays.
One of the books, “Night Lights: A Sukkot Story,” is written by Barbara Diamond Goldin, a favorite Western Massachusetts author who’s one of the country’s most highly acclaimed Jewish children’s book writers.
A third new book is a humorous spin on the biblical story of Noah from the Book of Genesis, which is read in synagogue two weeks after the fall holiday of Simchat Torah when the cycle of reading the Torah begins anew.
This year, when the COVID-19 pandemic is upturning the routines and rituals of the High Holidays and religious schools, families can welcome the season with these new, crisp reads.
Sukkot, the fall harvest festival that begins this year on Friday evening, Oct. 2, recalls the ancient Israelites who dwelt in simple, temporary huts as they wandered through the desert for 40 years in the biblical story of the Exodus from slavery.
In recent years, many families have embraced the holiday’s environmental themes and the do-it-yourself vibe of building their own sukkahs, like in ancient times, a small hut-like structure with an open roof covered with branches where families share meals and sometimes sleep. Because of the pandemic, sukkah-hopping is not advised by health experts this fall.
While Sukkot has ancient roots, the holiday has always been timely, Diamond Goldin said in a phone conversation. The holiday’s environmental themes echo with today’s concerns about climate change. It is also a poignant reminder of the plight of those who live in temporary shelters today, including refugees, a point she makes in her author’s note.
“Night Lights” is a freshly revised version of her original book, first published 25 years ago and features new illustrations by Amberin Huq.
In this heartwarming story, a young boy, Daniel, and his sister, Naomi, help their parents build and decorate the family sukkah. This will be the first year they sleep overnight in the sukkah on their own, because their grandfather has a cold. Kids will relate to Daniel, who is a little bit nervous about sleeping out in the dark. Naomi teases him gently, reminding him that he can’t have his nightlight because there’s no electricity in the sukkah. Daniel brings his teddy bear, but in the nighttime shadows, he imagines scary faces in the squashes that hang as sukkah decorations.
As the night grows darker, Naomi is a little scared, too. As they gaze up through the sukkah’s branches, the siblings notice the glow of the star-filled sky and take comfort in the bright full moon that coincides with Sukkot. Maybe their ancestors did have night lights in the desert, after all, they realize.
Huq’s illustrations glow with the golden hues of fall and glisten with the lights of the night.
In this upbeat story, kids meet Hillel, a young, inventive boy who loves to build houses – outside in trees and inside, too. But on Jewish holidays, his creative adventures seem to get in everyone’s way. On Passover, he has to take down his pillow house to make room for the Seder guests. When he dresses up as a house to deliver Purim gift boxes with his friends, he gets wet in the rain. Finally, as Sukkot approaches, Hillel finds his groove. In his orange overalls, standing on a ladder, Hillel is gleeful as he helps his family build a sukkah, where they will eat their meals for seven days.
“Sukkot is a perfect time to build houses,’” he exclaims on the last page of the book, as he joins his family celebrating the holiday in their sukkah.
Angela Ruiz’s animated, brightly colored illustrations are expressive and capture Hillel’s boundless energy.
Young kids will be tickled by award-winning author Leslie Kimmelman’s reimagined, fun tale of the biblical story of Noah’s Ark.
There’s mayhem on board when God instructs Noah to gather his family and a pair of all their animal friends to escape 40 days of flooding. Every day brings a new mishap among the animals, who get seasick and bicker with each other. With each challenge, Noah’s wife and sons complain – “Could things get any worse?” – a refrain that kids can repeat page after page. When the ark springs a leak, Noah gets the crew to work together, discovering they can cooperate and care for each other until they land safely back on dry land.
Vivian Mineker’s cartoon-like illustrations of zebras, parrots, and sloths hanging upside down will keep kids giggling. An author’s note prompts conversation about empathy.