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Jewish Journal

Children’s books make Passover come alive

by Penny Schwartz, JTA

March 21, 2013 | 3:46 am

Years ago, Nancy Steiner set out to make her family seder a bit more entertaining for her young kids. She wrote a poem that became very popular among family and friends. 

“On This Night: The Steps of the Seder in Rhyme,” Steiner’s first published children’s book, is an updated version of that poem with large format, brightly colored illustrations by Wendy Edelson that will appeal to religiously observant families.

Along with “Lotsa Matzah,” it’s one of two new Passover books for the youngest children to enliven the beloved holiday.

“On This Night”  (Hachai, $10.95) features lively rhymes that follow the 14 steps of the seder, with each section identified by its Hebrew name. 

In a phone interview with JTA from her home in Los Angeles, Steiner said  she hopes the rhymes not only entertain but also reveal the heart of the holiday and the meaning behind the seder. 

Part of the verse reads: “Telling the story each year like it’s new helps us to feel that it’s what WE went through.”

Edelson’s lively illustrations of the seder night depict a contemporary religiously observant family with a modern aesthetic. Young girls and boys, whose heads are covered with kippot, are shown participating fully in the seder’s activities. A fuzzy yellow duckling tags along for the festival.

“Lotsa Matzah” (Kar-Ben, $5.95), a board book by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by Akemi Gutierrez, sets the beat with lighthearted rhymes about matzah and Moses, and the hunt for the afikomen. One double-page spread offers some tempting ways to enjoy eating matzah — with “syrup on fried matzah brei. Matzah pizza, cheese piled high.” 

“So shout it out! Hurray for matzah! It’s Passover and we’ll eat lotsa.” 

Gutierrez’s cartoon-like illustrations will delight kids with lots of smiling faces and a madcap hunt for the afikomen. The front cover boasts a towering stack of matzah crackers with jam and a friendly dog eager to share in the festivities.

The book will appeal especially to those ages 1-4.

This year’s winner of the Sydney Taylor Award for young readers, recently announced by the Association of Jewish Libraries, is “The Elijah Door: A Passover Tale” (Holiday House). The Old World-style story was written by Linda Leopold Strauss and illustrated with richly detailed colored woodcuts by Alexi Natchev.

 The endearing, lighthearted tale is set in Poland (and sometimes Russia). The grown-ups in the Galinsky and Lippa families start a foolish argument over hens and geese that divides their town. With Passover approaching, the children of the two families plot a reunion, inspired by the hope that comes with Elijah’s presence during the holiday.

“Who can resist a folktale about star-crossed lovers with a Jewish twist and a happy ending?” commented Aimee Lurie, chair of the Sydney Taylor Awards Committee. 

The book stands out for its “lovely woodcut illustrations, creative problem solving and positive Jewish message of loving your neighbor,” wrote Lurie, librarian at the Agnon Jewish Day School in Cleveland. “It all adds up to a story children will want to hear more than once.” 

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