Taking young readers round the world and home again

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Looking for a way to whet your kids’ appetites for Passover beyond haroset and Elite chocoate bars?

Just in time for the holiday, the Rockville, Md.-based Kar-Ben Publishing has released two titles, both for children but targeted for different ages and uses.

“Passover Around the World” is the more impressive. Don’t let the drab title put you off. Tami Lehman-Wilzig’s book uses short story vignettes, easy-to-digest maps, inviting illustrations and simple recipes to draw young readers into the topic of how Passover customs differ around the world.

Fortunately, the author narrows her focus to nine countries, picking just one custom from each. And she imparts the information using stories kids can relate to — stories that feature families.

So in America, for example, the night before Passover Michael Feldman is scattering small pieces of bread in nooks and crannies of his home. In this last phase of preparation for the holiday, the family is about to begin its search for chametz. Michael’s grandmother tells him how her family observed the ritual in Poland, explaining how she guided her father from room to room, hinting if he was close or not. From then on, Michael gave the tradition a new name: “Bubbe Olga’s Hide ‘n Seek.”

Ethiopian Jews traditionally sacrificed a lamb, while many Turkish Jews put on a short skit before starting the evening seder. Iranian families often put scallions on the seder plate as a prop for one playful seder ritual. And in Israel, the seder can be a huge affair with choral, instrumental and stage performances.

Wisely, the author opens the book with a one-page synopsis of the Passover story that anyone of any age (including adults who may have forgotten the basics) can understand. She also includes “Passover Potpourri,” interesting little factoids highlighting unique customs from around the world, and more recipes, such as “Good Morning Matzah Brie” and “Yummy Mashed Potato Kugel,” plus a glossary.

All these elements make for an appealing book, aimed at 8 to 10-year-olds.

For the younger set, there’s “Sammy Spider’s First Haggadah,” by Sylvia A. Rouss. The “gimmick,” if you will, is the multicolored arachnid that appears on most of the pages.

Other than that, the book sticks to the basics, providing some of the blessings (in English, Hebrew and transliteration) said at seder; the four questions (and later, the answers); a boiled-down story of Passover; and, of course, an explanation of the kid-friendly elements such as finding the afikomen and Elijah’s cup.

For those who like to sing (or the just plain uninhibited), there are songs like “Make Room for Matzah” (to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey”), “No Hametz” (sung to “This Old Man”) and “Plagues” (“If You’re Happy and You Know It”).

All this might work better in a classroom than at the seder table. But who knows, maybe after the first few cups of wine, you’ll warm up to it.

“Passover Around the World” by Tami Lehman-Wilzig (48 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $7.95 softcover, $15.95 hard).

“Sammy Spider’s First Haggadah” by Sylvia A. Rouss (32 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $5.95).

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.