Izzy learns to say Im sorry in crop of new kids books

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Just in time for the High Holy Days, three new children’s books are ready to teach your kids valuable lessons about saying you’re sorry, being proud to be a Jew, and the Jewish months and holidays.

“New Year at the Pier” kicks things off with a whimsical Rosh Hashanah tale written by April Halprin Wayland and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch.

Crafted for 4- to 8-year-old new readers — but perhaps better for a parent to read to a preschooler — the 32-page book is about the “I’m Sorry” lists that Izzy and his family create each year as they observe tashlich, the Rosh Hashanah ceremony at which people symbolically cast away their sins in the form of breadcrumbs.

The author is quite comfortable communicating to a young audience, having been a farmer, folk musician and a poet in addition to a creator of children’s books. And Jorisch’s inviting watercolor illustrations highlight the whimsy and playfulness of Wayland’s text.

“New Year at the Pier” is for families who actively share Rosh Hashanah and tashlich but want to add a modern dimension to an ancient tradition. For example, the ceremony in the book takes place at a Southern California pier, reminding us that any body of water will serve to help us wash away our misdeeds.

Also, Izzy finds one particular “I’m sorry” very difficult to say out loud, a situation many kids — not to mention parents — often face.

The power of “New Year at the Pier” is that is written about “regular” people who happen to celebrate and revel in their Jewishness. What shines most through the sometimes humorous story is the notion that all of us need to apologize, and just saying sorry is the crucial first step in the process.

The book constantly reminds us of the power of ritual and family. Writes Halprin Wayland: “Izzy loves this changing time of year. Some days sunglasses, some days a sweater. The sound of the shofar and the salty smell of the sea. Time to think about his family and this whole wide, windy world.”

In another book for the same general age group, author Jaqueline Dembar Greene shares with us the danger and bravery of being Jewish during the Spanish Inquisition in “The Secret Shofar of Barcelona.”

A young boy, Rafael, and his musician father, Don Fernando, feel they must hide the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, although they do this “in plain sight.” Rafael practices his shofar blowing in secret and finds meaning in the order and sound of the sacred shofar blowing.

With enticing and bold illustrations by Doug Chayka, this book educates young readers about the plight of Sephardic Jews during the Inquisition. Promotional material notes that the book is for children ages 5 to 9, but it could also be read by parents (or older siblings) to a slightly younger set.

The message that “The Secret Shofar of Barcelona” imparts is clear and deliberate: When faced with religious adversity, persevere and be a proud Jew.

Greene beautifully simplifies something as horrible as Spanish Inquisition, making it suitable and understandable for young readers. The story allows kids and adults alike to empathize with and be inspired by Rafael, Don Fernando and all Spanish Jews. 

A heftier option, and perhaps one for more observant homes, is volume four in Tziporah Rosenberg’s “Round and Round: The Jewish Year” series. This heavy, 96-page hardcover book explores the months Iyar through Av, aiming at ages 5 and up.

Through stories and text that is often encyclopedic and uninviting, “The Jewish Year” provides a Jewish calendar tour of the vital markers along the Jewish year, from the counting of the Omer to the different names for Shavuot.

Ruth Beifus’ illustrations are overly simple, and each one provides an insightful but perhaps stereotypical glance into a world of Chassidic living.

Although “The Jewish Year” could serve as a companion piece to other educational resources in Jewish homes, synagogues and other communal institutions, the book doesn’t stand up well on its own. Use it as supplementary reading, if anything, for the book reinforces a Jewish worldview that might never have existed.

It does, however, provide a didactic understanding of slivers of Jewish history throughout the months Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz and Av. This and the other books in the series offer children relevant information, stories and inspiration about observances during the Jewish year.

“New Year at the Pier” by April Halpern Wayland, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch (32 pages, Dial Books for Young Readers, New York, $16.99)

“The Secret Shofar of Barcelona” by Jacqueline Dembar Green, illustrated by Doug Chayka (32 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $17.95)

“Round and Round: The Jewish Year” by Tzipora Rosenberg, illustrated by Ruth Beifus (96 pages, Feldheim Publishing, $19.99)

 

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.