The World is Round: Jew­ish Children’s Books Wel­come the New Year

From Jewish Book Council: The World is Round: Jew­ish Children’s Books Wel­come the New Year

Jew­ish Children’s Books Wel­come the New Year
Photo Credit: Jewish Book Council

The author of Kohelet (Eccle­si­astes) by tra­di­tion con­sid­ered to be King Solomon, com­ments bit­ter­ly that there is noth­ing new under the sun. But for young chil­dren the world’s cycli­cal nature is deeply reas­sur­ing. Noth­ing in the Jew­ish year empha­sizes this sense of per­ma­nence and con­sis­ten­cy more than the cel­e­bra­tion of Rosh Hashanah.

Two mod­ern clas­sics, one from the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and the oth­er towards that century’s end, each reflect the Jew­ish empha­sis on start­ing over with a new begin­ning with­in the sta­ble core of tra­di­tion. Jane Bre­skin Zalben’s Hap­py New Year, Beni (1993) and Sadie Rose Weilerstein’s What the Moon Brought (1942) have a per­ma­nent place in the canon of Jew­ish children’s hol­i­day lit­er­a­ture. Zalben’s gor­geous­ly illus­trat­ed tale of bears observ­ing Rosh Hashanah presents the hol­i­day with ten­der­ness and humor, while Weilerstein’s ear­li­er book places two live­ly sis­ters with­in Jew­ish Amer­i­can life at a key moment in his­to­ry, dur­ing World War II.

Both books empha­size the indeli­ble role of fes­tive meals, and both have at their core a qual­i­ty of last­ing beau­ty and sen­si­tiv­i­ty to what the arrival of Rosh Hashanah means each year.


HAPPY NEW YEAR, BENI takes place in an unspec­i­fied era, one delib­er­ate­ly designed for its endur­ing appeal to both the cen­tral impor­tance of fam­i­ly and to clas­si­cal styles of illus­tra­tion. The book’s set­ting is clear­ly meant to be a mix­ture of time­less and con­tem­po­rary; where the fam­i­ly finds itself on the spec­trum of obser­vance is not so impor­tant.

Beni wears a kip­pah and his sis­ter Sara wears a blue and white dress, ankle socks, and Mary jane shoes — which could have been part of a girl’s wardrobe from the nine­teen-fifties as well as the nineties. Grand­pa wears a three-piece suit and Grand­ma bless­es the can­dles wear­ing a del­i­cate veil. The fam­i­ly car is a vin­tage mod­el.

Even the children’s names evoke the nos­tal­gia of Jew­ish roots: Max, Rosie, Goldie, Mol­ly, and Sam, all ones which had recent­ly returned to pop­u­lar­i­ty when the book was writ­ten. Beni and Sara pre­pare favorite foods with their par­ents, bring­ing rugelach, man­del­brot, and strudel to their grand­par­ents’ house.

Using water­col­or on parch­ment, Zalben’s intense col­ors and exquis­ite detail draw chil­dren into the scenes, with every raisin on the chal­lah and each slice of pome­gran­ate evi­dence that this fam­i­ly is as real as their own — even if they are bears.

Read on for the full list of Jew­ish Children’s Books Wel­come the New Year on Jewish Book Council.

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