Charlotte Offsay began baking challah every Friday when she and her husband started a family after they moved to Los Angeles from Boston.
The British-born Offsay, now an acclaimed writer of children’s books (“The Big Beach Cleanup”) grew up in Weston and graduated from Simmons University.
When Offsay’s first child was still in diapers, a neighbor in their apartment complex invited them for a playdate for their weekly challah baking ritual.
The toddlers were gleeful squishing their pieces of dough that they covered with chocolate sprinkles, Offsay recalled in a phone conversation with the Journal.
So began a kitchen adventure for Offsay’s family that has become a joyful and deeply meaningful ritual of baking the delicious braided egg bread that is blessed at the start of Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. Offsay now has two children, a nine-year-old daughter and a soon-to-be eight-year-old son.
For Rosh Hashanah, they go into mass production and bake batches and batches of round challahs, the traditional shape for the High Holidays that symbolizes the circle of the year. They bake enough for the 80 guests hosted by Offsay’s inlaws for their Rosh Hashanah gathering.
The exuberance of her kids’ challah-baking now jumps off the page of “Challah Day!” Offsay’s delightful new children’s book with lively, animated illustrations by Jason Kirschner.
“It’s an upbeat, celebratory book, an ode to making challah,” Offsay said.
“Challah Day!” is one of seven notable new Jewish children’s books that will brighten the High Holidays and Sukkot for readers of all ages.
Illustrated by Jason Kirschner
Holiday House; ages 3-6
The fun-filled action never stops in “Challah Day!” Charlotte Offsay’s delightful picture book, a perfect pairing of Offsay’s playful rhyming verse and Jason Kirschner’s laugh-out-loud, cartoon-like illustrations. Kids follow a young girl, her baby brother, their parents and their rambunctious dog as they bake challah. Best of all, they celebrate Shabbat dinner and enjoy their delicious homemade challah – with chocolate sprinkles or raisins – with grandma and grandpa.
Two New Years
Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield
Chronicle Books; ages 3-6
This lovely, beautifully, brightly colored illustrated book follows a multicultural family who celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the fall and the Chinese Lunar New Year in the spring. Ho’s easy-to-understand narrative notes the two cultures’ different traditions, customs and foods, and highlights the similarities in their values. It’s a welcome addition to Jewish children’s literature, reflecting Jewish racial and cultural diversity. When the family attends services, readers see an Orthodox synagogue, where men and women are seated across from each other and everyone is praying and singing.
Kayla and Kugel’s Silly Sukkot
Ann D. Koffsky
Apples & Honey Press; ages 3-6
In this latest title in Ann Koffsky’s sparkling series, Kayla, a spunky Pippi Longstocking-like girl, and her dog Kugel help Kayla’s parents build and decorate the family’s backyard sukkah. Kayla saves the day when Kugel gets into some playful mischief. Readers learn the biblical story of why Jews eat and even sleep in the simple hut that recalls how the Israelites wandered in the desert. The sukkah comes to life in a festive meal shared with another family – and their kitty. Koffsky’s animated, brightly colored illustrations reflects the diversity in contemporary Jewish families.
How to Welcome an Alien
Illustrated by Shirley Waisman
Kalaniot Books; ages 4-9
Adventures await when a spaceship with a family of friendly aliens lands at the front yard where Dina and her Ima and Abba live. The light-hearted story emphasizes the mitzvah of welcoming strangers, a central theme of Sukkot. An author’s note encourages readers to think about the hardships faced by refugees from across the globe.
Tzimmes for Tzipporah
Illustrated by Christine Battuz
Apples & Honey Press; ages 4-7
In this environment-centered picture book, a young girl joins her family on a farm to harvest the fall root vegetables that they later use to make tzimmes, a sweet stew enjoyed at Rosh Hashanah.
Big Bad Wolf’s Yom Kippur
Illustrated by Martin Morón
Apples & Honey Press; ages 6-8
Older kids will sink their teeth into David Sherrin’s Yom Kippur tale that’s a masterful fairy-tale mashup of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. The takeaway: even a big bad wolf can change for the better and ask his friends to forgive any past misdeeds.
The Moving Box Sukkah
Leah Rachel Berkowitz
Illustrated by Sharon Vargo
Apples & Honey Press; ages 5-8
In this heartwarming story, a young boy is adjusting to big life changes when he and his mom move from their home with a yard to a high-rise city apartment. One of his worries is whether they’ll be able to have a sukkah.The inventive and creative young hero figures out the perfect solution. An author’s note relates Sukkot with the deeper meaning of home. Θ