Friday, February 22, 2008

Jewish Books Across the Age Grid

I recently received a great big box of books in the mail to review and since that means a lot of typing, I figured I would combine some of my posts based on book genres. Hence the Jewish theme we have going today! These books all focus on Jewish holidays, Jewish families, and the country of Israel, spanning different age groups. Though I didn't absolutely love all the books, hopefully you'll find something worthwhile to read to your child or to help your child learn about his or her culture or other's culture.

The first selection is the simplest of the books. It's titled It's Israel's Birthday! and it's written by Ellen Dietrick with photographs by Tod Cohen. It shows a small group of children "celebrating" Yom Ha'atzmaut, or Israel Independence Day, by performing different pretend activities in their classroom. We see them sitting in a row of chairs, pretending to fly to Israel, putting pieces of paper in the famous "Prayer Wall" built out of colored blocks, and marching in a birthday parade, carrying small flags.

While this is a good learning tool for children that are Jewish and are expanding on previously learned aspects of their own culture, I don't think it's the greatest choice of book for a small child that is not of a Jewish background. There are a lot of Hebrew words used and the book, unfortunately, does not contain a glossary. It is, however, bright and colorful, which will catch any child's eye and the fact that the children in the photographs are playing pretend is very cute. It just may inspire your little one to act out holidays with their toys!

Moving up in age a little bit, we have Let My People Go! written by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by Ilene Richard. This is an adorable rhyming book that teaches the readers about the Ten Plagues and the Exodus of Jews from Egypt. It's really a neat book, as different lines are printed in different colors, allowing for a group of people to read it and make it a lot of fun! The illustrations are also quite good, though I was a little confused as to why all the character's noses were white. Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe I'm just blonde. :-)

My only warning about this book is that it appears to be for very young children, but due to the talk of the Ten Plagues, which can be intimidating to some, as well as quite scary, it may be more appropriate for older children, maybe 6-10, rather than the 3-5 it's appearance leads it to look like. The author, however, did a great job in writing about the plagues in a somewhat humorous manner, so adults can be the judge as to what age they want to begin reading this too. I thought it was a great little book!

Next we're going to jump to the Beginning Readers level with Private Joel and the Sewell Mountain Seder written by Bryna Fireside and illustrated by Shawn Costello. Private J.A. Joel is fighting in the Civil War as a Union soldier and being at war means no chance of celebrating Passover at home with his family. One of his friends and fellow soldiers somehow manages to arrange for a shipment of matzah to be delivered to the camp and the group is able to hold their own seder.

As a beginning chapter book and true story, this book is my favorite of this bunch. I find it very easy to read for a new or blossoming reader and it's a great story to learn about. The illustrations are beautiful and the message resonates loud and clear. I think this particular choice will make a great addition to my shelves both at home and at the library.

Finally we jump to the middle school/high school level with Keeping Israel Safe: Serving in the Israel Defense Forces written by Barbara Sofer. It is a great introduction into what four Israeli teens go through as they prepare themselves to enter the military. Not only does the book focus on the teens and their reasons for wanting to join, as well as their fears, the book also talks about different Israeli weapons systems, technology, and why the Israeli Defense Forces is so respected in the world, making this a huge learning experience in one, small book.

Though at first glance this book may appear to be something a student may only want to use in a report, it makes for very interesting reading for recreation as well. The information is giving in paragraph tidbits, making it a fast read. I also really enjoyed the personal side of the book, giving the reader a glimpse into four teens lives, while still teaching about different aspects of the Israeli military. Combinations like that are what get kids reading non-fiction books, even when they don't have to.

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