New Jewish kids books, through eyes of a 5-year-old

Faced with the task of reviewing five new kids books, I sat down with a children’s literature expert: my 5-year-old daughter, Maya.

Normally effusive in her praise and preschooler articulate, Maya was somewhat reserved as we read each book and limited her responses to one or two words, which may have had to do with reading to her before bedtime.

First up was was “It’s Tot Shabbat,” written by Naomi Davis with photographs by Tod Cohen. It is recommended for children ages 1-4 and is part of Kar-Ben’s popular “It’s Time” series. The text and pictures focus on the having preschoolers participate in synagogue traditions and rituals, in this case celebrating Shabbat in a fun and interactive way.

The story centers around celebrating Shabbat, from taking out plush Torahs from an imaginary ark, to reading and acting out the story of Noah, to reciting the blessings over grape juice and challah.

Maya said, “It was good.” She liked the pictures, taken by Cohen, a commercial photographer.

“I Keep Kosher,” written by Tami G. Raubvogel and Rebecca Schwartz and illustrated by Tova Katz, presents keeping kosher for the kiddie set. It was written by two Orthodox Jewish women and filled with Orthodox Jews. I mention this because I am not sure the book, despite its vibrant, cartoony illustrations, will appeal to a broad enough Jewish audience.

Through rhyme and verse, “I Keep Kosher” details that keeping kosher — shopping at a kosher butcher, eating fish with fins and scales — means eating in a special way. The book concludes with a very useful ABCs of keeping kosher, which only go up to the letter M.

When we finished Maya said, “That’s a good book.”

“Why did you like it?” I asked.

“Because it was good,” she answered.

The third book, “Bim and Bom: A Shabbat Tale,” authored by Rabbi Daniel Schwartz with illustrations by Melissa Iwai, is about Bim, a builder, and her brother, Bom, a baker. They practice their crafts on opposite ends of town and meet each Friday night for a festive Shabbat after Bim builds houses for those in need and Bim sells challah loaves to the poor.

“Bim and Bom” is a redesigned and re-illustrated version of Kar-Ben Publishing’s beloved folktale, which has been out of print for many years.

Schwartz’s text and Iwai’s drawings are quite good and move the story along quickly. Maya enjoyed it. The book is best suited for kids ages 2-6, though some of the younger ones may miss the concept of doing mitzvahs.

“Picnic at Camp Shalom,” written by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, is one Maya liked so much that she shared with her best friend, also named Maya, who is not Jewish.

The story highlights how Jewish summer camps are great places to make friends and create memories while emphasizing the idea that the entire experience teaches Jewish cultural traditions and creates community.

The last book was “Jumping Jenny” by Ellen Bari and illustrated by Raquel Garcia Macia, which is meant to encourage every reader to make a difference in the world.

Jenny loves to jump — in her house, on the playground, in the classroom. But she inevitably bumps into people and disrupts lives, including her mother, teachers and classmates, who laugh at her. When one of her teacher suggests the children set up an African village and raise money for a school in Uganda, every student but Jenny volunteers to do something to attract donations.

Jenny frowns that she is only good at jumping. Later, though, she decides to do 1,000 pogo jumps for Ugandan school children, and ends up raising $1 per jump from all her donors.

Maya said, “It’s my favorite. I’m going to read it again at nighttime.”

When a book graduates from the overflowing shelves downstairs to the select few in her bedroom then you know it’s special.

“It’s Tot Shabbat”
by Naomi Davis,

photographs by Tod Cohen

(24 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $14.95)

“I Keep Kosher” by Tami G. Raubvogel

and Rebecca Schwartz, illustrated by Tova Katz

(26 pages, Hachai Publishing, $10.95)

“Bim and Bom:

A Shabbat Tale” by Rabbi Daniel Schwartz, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

(32 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $8.95)

“Picnic at Camp Shalom”
by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Deborah Melmon

(32 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $17.95)

“Jumping Jenny”

by Ellen Bari, illustrated by Raquel Garcia Macia

(32 pages, Kar-Ben Publishing, $17.95)

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.