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New children’s books tell the ancient story of Passover

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New children’s books tell the ancient story of Passover

Welcoming guests is one of Passover’s most cherished mitzvoth, reflected in the directive “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” read aloud during the Seder. The true meaning of those words jumps off the page in a new crop of children’s books for the popular eight-day festival that begins this year with the first Seder on the evening of April 15. These seven engaging books take kids back in time and open a lens to Passover celebrations in Jewish communities around the globe, from Spain to Iran and Israel.

“Matzah Means So Many Things”

by Faith Goldstein; Yorkshire Publishing; ages 3-8

Matzoh takes center stage in this simple narrative that features the unleavened bread, in all its shapes and ways to enjoy. Kids discover the fun hunt for the afikomen – the piece of matzah hidden at the beginning of the Seder – and how the bread of affliction represents the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom. Large illustrations feature a diverse array of Jewish children and put kids right in the story.

“In our Teeny Tiny Matzah House”

by Bill and Claire Wurtzel; Apples & Honey Press; ages 3-8

Young kids – and their older siblings – will have fun with this simple, playful story, a riff on the Jewish folktale about a crowded house. The cast of zany characters features Kitzel the kitty, made of smiley bright orange slices. Kitzel’s family of celery, carrots, and other springtime fruits and vegetables that are part of the Seder ritual fill the brightly colored pages. Kids can follow instructions to make their own “orange” kitzel.

“My Escape from Egypt: A Draw-It-Yourself Book About the Passover Story”

by Sari Kopitnikoff
Ideastrator Press; ages 4 and up

This clever, open ended activity book will keep kids engaged and entertained through the long Seder night. Educator Sari Kopitnikoff offers more than 30 pages of simple, creative prompts filled with the themes of Passover. There’s even an award to fill in for Moses.

“Alone Together on Dan Street”

by Erica Lyons
illustrated by Jen Jamieson; Apples & Honey Press; ages 4-8

In a delightful and inspiring story of our pandemic times, a young, spunky Israeli girl named Mira spends her days in her apartment with her parents and brother during a year when everyone had to stay home to stay safe. As Mira practices the Four Questions alone on her balcony, her elderly neighbor Mr. Blum, gets her giggling as he recites the questions along with her from his balcony. When Mira realizes that Mr. Blum and other neighbors will be alone for Passover, she pulls out her paints and paper in an ingenious plan to gather together safely. Jen Jamieson’s lively, cartoon-like illustrations bring to life Jerusalem’s streets and sights.

“A Persian Passover”

by Etan Basseri
illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh; Kalaniot Books; ages 4-8

Set in a small town in Iran in the 1950s, an energetic boy named Ezra who likes to race around his neighborhood, and his younger sister Roza bring flour to their synagogue’s communal oven. They watch as their dough is quickly rolled out and baked, a reminder of the Israelites’ rush to flee Egypt. When Ezra stumbles on their way home, their only matzoh is broken to pieces. Roza confides in their neighbor, who offers to share her matzoh. The kids invite her for their Seder, ensuring that she will not be alone. The gloriously colored illustrations open a world of Jewish-Iranian customs. Back pages include a note about Persian Jewish life and a recipe for hallaq, Persian charoset.

“Raquela’s Seder”

by Joel Edward Stein
illustrated by Sara Ugolotti; Kar Ben; ages 5-9

In this evocative tale, set in Spain during the years of the Inquisition, Raquela’s family is forced by edict to hide its Jewish identity. Raquela longs to celebrate Passover, but her mother cautions it will be too dangerous. But Raquela’s wise father, the best fisherman in the village, finds a way to celebrate Passover in the perfect, safe place no one will suspect. Raquela’s fishing village springs to life in Sara Ugolotti’s large, glowing illustrations. An author’s note explains how Spain’s Jews were forced to flee or become Christian, some holding onto their traditions in secret.

“Max and Emma Cross the Red Sea”

by Carl Harris Shuman
illustrated by C.B. Decker; Apples & Honey Press; ages 7-10

In this entertaining chapter book, the second in the “Torah Time Travel” series, older readers step back in time with a boy named Max, and Emma, his classmate at their Jewish school. As Passover approaches, Max tries to avoid practicing the Four Questions, fearful that at the Seder, he will stutter in front of his relatives. He and Emma, and her small poodle, Kalev, the Hebrew word for dog, crouch into Max’s DIY time travel contraption and make their way back to the Exodus story just as the Israelites flee Egypt. The kids meet Moses, who they discover also speaks with a stutter. This gives Max a new sense of self confidence and a new friend in Emma, whose family is invited to Max’s family Seder.

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