Leave it to Eric A. Kimmel, author of the classic “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” whose scores of award-winning Jewish children’s books often feature mythical spirits – to craft a lighthearted Rosh Hashanah tale that features Sasquatch, also known as Big Foot.
“Miriam and the Sasquatch” is Kimmel’s contribution to this year’s new crop of Jewish children’s books for the High Holidays and Sukkot. Other highlights include, “The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda,” a lovely folk-like tale by Shoshani Nambi, and “A Synagogue Just Like Home,” by Alice Blumenthal, illustrated by Boston-area illustrator Laurel Molk.
May these sparkling and engaging new reads usher in a sweet new year of sharing the treasures of Jewish children’s books.
“Apples, Apples, All Year Round: A Celebration of Jewish Holidays”
By Barbara Bietz and June Sobel
Illustrated by Ruth Waters
Apples & Honey Press; ages 3-6
Apples take center stage in this upbeat rhyming book where a bear, badger, and fox celebrate a year of Jewish holidays. The book opens with apple slices dipped in honey for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, followed by apple cake for Sukkot, and waving candied apples for Simchat Torah. Bietz and Sobel provide lively verse embellished with Waters’ colorful collage illustrations.
“Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story”
By Linda Elovitz Marshall
Zara González Hoang
Abrams Appleseed; ages 3-5
With simple, rhyming verse, Elovitz Marshall describes what a year looks like in relatable, kid-friendly fashion that highlights Jewish lifecycle events including camping out in a sukkah. González Hoang’s brightly colored illustrations reflect a diverse, multiracial, multiethnic array of kids, including kids who use wheelchairs.
“Miriam and the Sasquatch”
By Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Tamara Anegon
Apples & Honey Press; ages 4-7
In Eric Kimmel’s delightful, off-beat story, a young girl named Miriam heads to the orchard in her family’s yard to practice blowing the shofar, the ram’s horn that is sounded in the synagogue during Rosh Hashanah. But she’s interrupted by Sasquatch, a (not-too-scary) hairy, ape-like creature, also known as the mythical “Big Foot,” who’s munching on all the apples. The spunky Miriam tries to scare Sasquatch off with a loud shofar blast. When bees swarm around them, Sasquatch comes to Miriam’s rescue. The one-time quarreling rivals learn lessons about friendship and forgiveness, the central theme of the High Holidays. In an author’s note, Kimmel, a master storyteller, reveals that his Rosh Hashanah story was sparked by a tale he heard in Borneo about an orangutan who meddled in a farmer’s orchard.
“The Stars Will Be My Nightlight: A Sukkot Story”
By Jen Halpern
Illustrated by Chiara Fedele
Kar-Ben Publishing; ages 4-8
In this lovely, quiet story, a young boy persuades his reluctant mother to let them sleep overnight in their sukkah, the loosely covered hut they put up in their yard for the seven-day fall harvest festival. But when a gentle rain turns the young boy’s enthusiasm to tears, his mother reassures him that the sukkah will protect them as it did the ancient Israelites. Fedele’s illustrations capture the festive daytime colors of the sukkah and the glow of the starry skies at night.
“A Synagogue Just Like Home”
By Alice Blumenthal McGinty
Illustrated by Laurel Molk
Candlewick Press; ages 4-8
Rabbi Ruben loves his old synagogue but it’s got creaky floors, a dusty attic, and a leaky kitchen faucet. Kids will be tickled when the well-meaning rabbi-turned-handyman tries – on his own – to fix it all up before Shabbat – stuffing a piece of challah dough in the leaky faucet and lining the drafty windows with synagogue tablecloths. The next week, the kids and congregants rise to the occasion, cleaning and repairing the shul. By Shabbat, their beloved synagogue glows and feels just like home. Molk’s animated illustrations embellish the humor-filled story and convey a warm and richly diverse, multigenerational community including many Jews of color.
“The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda”
By Shoshana Nambi
Illustrated by Moran Yogev
Kalaniot Books; ages 5-10
In this heartwarming story, kids are introduced to the customs and traditions of the Abayudaya, a small community of deeply religious Jews in rural Uganda. The folk-like tale is told through the voice of Shoshi, a spirited girl, who, with her younger brother, David, live with their grandparents. As Sukkot approaches, Shoshi is worried that another family’s sukkah will win the community’s contest for best sukkah. When a storm damages that family’s sukkah, Shoshi, David, and the other villagers pitch in to repair it. They realize that the true meaning of Sukkot is in the bonds that tie their community together. Author Nambi, who grew up in the Abayudaya community and is now a rabbinical student in the U.S., deserves high praise for broadening the global lens of what it means and looks like to be Jewish.