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