Get ready for Passover with a song and ma-roar

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If you’re looking to get kids in the mood for matzah and Mah Nishtana, two whimsical new Passover books will do just that.

Originally self-published in the late ’90s but recently picked up by Pelican Publishing, “The Passover Zoo Seder” by

S. Daniel Guttman is a quirky book about what happens when zoo animals hold a seder, but their haggadahs are too worn out to read.

Each animal takes a turn reciting a part of the Exodus story, with a lion periodically letting out a “ma-roar.” It’s a unique way of explaining the traditions and history of Passover to kids and young teens with a literary bent — and, preferably, an ear for puns.

The richly detailed story is told in rhyme, with a lively cadence that is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss (though with significantly fewer tongue-twisters): “ ‘You’ve all heard the news,’ he remarked with great sorrow/‘We have no haggadahs for Pesach tomorrow.’ ”

The only downside is the strange illustrations, which are done in what looks like pen and crayon in a loose and abstract manner. Some of the animals end up looking rather creepy, including a kangaroo that is strangely reminiscent of the nightmarish bunny suit from the movie “Donnie Darko.”

Still, for older kids to whom the book seems to be geared, the drawings shouldn’t be too scary.

The book concludes with a “Passover Zoology,” a glossary of seder terms with humorous explanations. Also included are a Passover word find and a crossword puzzle with clues based on parts of the story.

For reading with young children before or during the seder, “Afikomen Mambo” by Rabbi Joe Black is a cute little book with lovely and colorful watercolor illustrations featuring a diverse group of kids and adults.

The book is an illustration of the “Afikomen Mambo” song, which is on the included CD.

The storyline is pretty simple: basically just a group of kids looking for the afikomen at the end of the seder, and explaining the significance of the hidden matzah.

Although finding the afikomen is traditionally a kids’ activity, their energy and attention spans often are flagging by this point in the seder. “Afikomen Mambo” is a good way to get kids jazzed about the home stretch.

The song is very cute — my 1-year-old flapped his arms and bopped his head when the upbeat music started playing — but be sure to listen to the CD before reading the book. Some parts, like the chorus (“I’m gonna find it, I’m gonna find it, gonna find the afikomen”), sound a bit silly being read “straight.”

“Afikomen Mambo” would be great to read and listen to a few times before the seder, so that kids get to know the song. Then they can sing and dance to it during the seder.

“The Passover Zoo Seder” by S. Daniel Guttman, illustrated by Phillip Ratner (32 pages, Pelican Publishing, $16.99)

“Afikomen Mambo”
by Rabbi Joe Black, illustrated by Linda Prater (24 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $8.95)