May 26, 2024
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This Chanukah, Give the Gift of Reading

No matter how elaborate your menorah may be, polishing it to perfection is probably still easier than coming up with appropriate gifts for everyone on your Chanukah list. But while this year’s must-have toy will likely be sitting on a shelf collecting dust in six months, books have a unique staying power and not only entertain your kids, but can often enrich, inspire and educate them. Thankfully, we live in a time where we have multiple Jewish publishing houses putting out a new crop each year. Read on to see the best of the best for kids of all ages.

 

Toddlers/Preschoolers

“I Love You My Dear” by Chaya Baron (Hachai)

If you’ve ever brought a new baby home to older kids, you will understand the brilliance of “I Love You My Dear.” While the narrative technically addresses the new baby, it also reminds siblings, who might be feeling neglected, just how much they are valued. Beautiful illustrations on laminated pages and gentle rhymes hammer home the point that every family member is a gift from Hashem.

“Avi, the Happiest Boy Alive” by Tovi Baron (Feldheim)

In today’s consumer-driven world, “Avi, the Happiest Boy Alive” is a breath of fresh air that should have young readers acquiring an attitude of gratitude. Enthusiastically explaining that his never-ending supply of inner joy comes from appreciating the gifts in his life, Avi counsels readers to find their own happiness by opening their eyes to the many wonderful things all around them.

“Let’s Swim Safely” by Bracha Goetz (Judaica Press Kids)

Kids of all ages love to have fun in the water, and “Let’s Swim Safely” is all about making sure they understand the importance of pool safety, addressing a variety of potentially dangerous situations. While “Let’s Swim Safely” is a board book with charming illustrations, its messages are written to resonate with older kids as well.

“Shop for Shabbos” by Yehudis Klein. Judaica Press. 2021. English. Board book. 16 pages. ISBN-13: 978-160763325.

With terrific illustrations and a story line that is familiar to even the tiniest of tots, “Shop for Shabbos” teaches about counting in a fun way. This board book is definitely the only one I have ever read that ticks off just how many kugels are making their way into the shopping cart and you will likely be reading this one over and over again.

“My First Colors Through a Jewish Lens” (Hashem’s Gems Publishing)

Little cuties will to love this sturdy board book, with smiling faces and vibrant pictures of objects they see in their everyday lives teaching them all about colors. Short rhyming text on each page and questions will prompt conversation, turning a fun read into an educational opportunity.

“Yael and the Secret Language” by Malky Weinstock (Judaica Press)

Yael of the Lite Girl series is back, this time wondering about her mother’s secret whisperings throughout the day. Discovering that those words are silent prayers, Yael and her brother are empowered to build their own close relationship with Hashem. The enclosed read-along CD is a godsend when you just don’t have the time to read aloud to your little one.

“Intelligentchik” by Devorah Benedict (Feldheim)

Appealing illustrations and educational activities come together in “Intelligentchik,” with parental instructions outlining different activities on each page. Little kids will love analyzing the pictures—be on the lookout for Devorah Bee, who is hidden on each page and often challenging to spot.

 

Young Readers

“Shloimie’s Letter” by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili (Hachai)

This chapter book weaves a historical perspective together with an engaging story line about personal responsibility and the importance of family. It’s hard not to be fascinated by life in 1946, a time when apple peels were considered a treat but children were also facing the post-World War II fallout. Shloimie Paporovich is a likeable character whom kids can relate to, despite the fact that this story takes place decades ago.

“Just Love Them for Children: Stories About Rabbi Dovid Trenk” by Shmuel Blitz (ArtScroll)

Children often view rabbis as unapproachable figures with whom they have little in common, but “Just Love Them for Children” shatters that illusion with short stories about Rabbi Dovid Trenk, a beloved educator who passed away in 2019. Bridging the generation gap, this book demonstrates Rabbi Trenk’s special affection for children, giving kids a better understanding of the rebbe-talmid connection.

“I Can be Dan L’Chaf Zechus” by Sara Blau (Judaica Press)

This great book has the potential to defuse tense situations by teaching kids to become junior detectives instead of jumping to conclusions when unexpected things happen. “I Can be Dan L’Chaf Zechus” shares the story of four kids who decided to take a second look at a particular turn of events, giving them the ability to see others in a favorable light.

“PJ Pepperjay 4” by Yehudis Backenroth. Feldheim. 2021. English. Paperback: 128 pages. ISBN-13:  978-1680255041.

The irrepressible PJ Pepperjay returns to delight readers with another two stories of mayhem and laughter. Join the Pepperjays as they accidentally go to the wrong wedding in “Stupendous Simchah” and cheer PJ on as he tries out for choir in “Terrific Tune.” Expect the unexpected when PJ is around, and readers will get a good laugh as they discover that things always work out for the best.

 

Older Kids

“Bustenai,” based on Rabbi Marcus Lehman’s novel (Feldheim)

It never ceases to amaze me how putting something in comic format will have kids devouring literature that they would never otherwise read. Such is the case with “Bustenai,” which will have a whole new generation of readers delving into a world of kings, exiles and unique relationships of historical significance that they have likely never encountered before.

“Pretty Please With a Cherry on Top” by Rachel Stein (Feldheim)

Kids love short stories, and this collection will definitely entertain and inspire. From the story of a girl’s secret mission to help her elderly neighbors, to another about a boy who learns from a time capsule what it means to be a true friend, “Pretty Please With a Cherry on Top” is 120 pages of fun that may also spark newfound sensitivity and thoughtfulness in your kids.

“Between You and Me” by Between Carpools. ArtScroll, Shaar Press. 2021. English. Hardcover. 328 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1422628584.

A daily journal that will get children to stop and think about their lives, “Between You and Me” gets kids to develop crucial writing skills as they answer questions ranging from the mundane (“If you had a chance to have dessert for breakfast every day, what would you choose?”) to the more lofty (“What would you grab if Mashiach came right now?”). Each page has space to answer the questions on two separate occasions and, in addition to creating their own works of literature, kids will love re-reading this five or even 10 years down the road.

“The Kichel Collection 2” by Bracha Stein and Chani Judowitz (Feldheim)

Back again with their entertaining commentary on contemporary Jewish life, the Kichels jump from the back page of Mishpacha Magazine into an all-new book. Kids will love the comics while their parents will get an extra chuckle as they see themselves (or perhaps their friends, neighbors or cousins) reflected in the interactions of this strip.

“Holding On” by Shoshana Riger (Menucha)

Not all teens have easy lives, and “Holding On” is a thoughtful novel that addresses significant hardships, including death. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, “Holding On” is still a likeable book, one that all teens can appreciate and that teaches very thoughtful lessons without getting preachy.


Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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