Afternoon naps, a steady flow of food and the promise of an afikomen surprise might keep children awake during the seder, but there is nothing that makes them tune out faster than the formal language of an adult haggadah. Fortunately, there is a growing selection of haggadahs written and illustrated for children of all ages, and finding the right one just might be this year's best Pesach investment.
Children who do not yet read might enjoy simplified haggadahs that include interesting pictures or funny songs.
"My First Passover Board Book" by Clare Lister (DK Publishing, $6.99). This is more of a children's book than an actual haggadah, but it is great to read to preschool children in the weeks before Pesach and for them to use during the seder. It is a board book, so the pages do not tear, there are good pictures and the story is told in a straightforward way that young children can understand.
"My Very Own Haggadah" by Judyth Saypol Groner and Madeline Wikler (Kar-Ben Publishing, $3.95). This very simple haggadah doubles as a coloring book. The haggadah, which is almost completely in English, reads like a children's book and includes songs and projects children can do to prepare for the seders.
Children who are just learning to read may want more text, while they continue to enjoy beautiful illustrations.
"A Children's Haggadah" by Howard I. Bogot and Robert J. Orkand (Central Conference of American Rabbis, $12.95). This haggadah, which is published by the rabbinical organization of Reform rabbis, reads very simply, in a way that young children can easily understand. It is nicely illustrated and is almost completely in English, with some transliterated songs.
"Mah Nishtanah? A Passover Haggadah for Children" by Shaul Meizlish (Adama Books, $9.95). This haggadah reads like a children's story, but it closely follows the structure of the traditional haggadah. It clearly explains what "mommy and daddy" are doing throughout each step of the seder. The photographs of a family preparing for and conducting a seder look a bit dated and the drawings are mediocre, but the text is nicely directed at children.
"The Artscroll Children's Haggadah" by Shmuel Blitz (Mesorah Publications, $10.99). This haggadah is truly special. It features the full text of the traditional haggadah alongside a simple translation that is aimed at children. Each page includes boxes of stories, explanations and bite-size information that thoughtful children will enjoy using as topics for discussion. The illustrations, which were done by Tova Katz, are superb. They are sure to create excitement about the Pesach story and to capture the imaginations of many children who want to try to follow along with the adults.
"Uncle Eli's Passover Haggadah" by Eliezer Lorne Segal (No Starch Press, $12.95). This haggadah is more like a funny children's story that is told in verse by cute characters. For example, Uncle Eli says, "Tomorrow is Passover./You don't look ready./ We have to remove/Everything that is bready." Parents might want to read this book to children in the weeks before the seder and older children might enjoy reading this version to themselves or sharing especially funny parts of it out loud during the seders.
Preteens may feel that they have outgrown children's haggadot, but they may not yet feel engaged by their parents' books. While illustrations are probably still important, older children may enjoy haggadot with age-appropriate commentary, translations, games and humor.
"Torah Tots Family Haggadah" by Reuven A. Stone and Menachim Z. Shimanowitz, (Judaica Press, $10.95). Older children will like following along with this haggadah because of its colorful and jazzy pages, as well as its interesting commentary, fun facts and explanations, which are sometimes told by a cute little character called the Haggadah Maven. Precocious children will enjoy the Maven test at the haggadah's end.
"The Animated Haggadah" by Rony Oren (Urim Publications, $16.95). This haggadah is based on a claymation film of the same name that children might enjoy watching before the seder nights. The haggadah includes a few recipes, some suggestions for discussion that adults can initiate, and some word games in the back.
"The Artscroll Youth Haggadah" by Rabbis Nosson and Yitzchok Zev Scherman (Mesorah Publications, $6.99). The haggadah features the full Hebrew text of the traditional haggadah alongside a clear translation that is aimed at slightly older children. Almost every page features interesting commentary and nice illustrations, although they aren't as dynamic as the ones in the "Children's Haggadah."
"The Really Fun Family Haggadah" by Larry Stein (Ruach Books, $9.95). Stein, who serves on the Chicago cabinet of the Jewish Theological Seminary, gives his haggadah an irreverent tone, which preteens might enjoy. He paraphrases Maggid (the Pesach story) and includes many multiple-choice questions with funny answers. This haggadah, which does not have enough illustrations, also includes some standard explanations, songs and discussion topics.
"Uh! Oh! Passover Haggadah With Hidden Objects You'll (Almost) Never Find" by Janet Zwebner (Pitspopany Press, $9.95). This one is the "Where's Waldo" of haggadahs. Children who look throughout the fun illustrations, cartoons and mazes to find all of the hidden Passover characters and objects in less than 30 minutes are promised a surprise afikomen present from the publisher!
"Why on This Night? A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration" by Rahel Musleah (Simon and Schuster, $13.99). This creative haggadah has the most experiential activities for children, and parents can use different parts of this haggadah for every child. It includes recipes, menus, art projects, a short play to be read or acted out, and funny songs about the Pesach story to familiar tunes. The haggadah also includes interesting discussion topics that go beyond the standard ones. The text, which is mostly in English, but has some Hebrew with transliteration, is directed at children in a poetic, sweet and substantive way. The haggadah also includes artful and pleasing illustrations.