I’d climb the marble stairs to the children’s section, select some titles that called to me, and settle into a comfy chair in the corner as the large fans wafted cool air around the room. On the walk home, I’d sometimes stop at the High’s Dairy for an ice cream cone.
Since summer is upon is, here are six books that you and your family might like. All of them include one element that can be a family activity, as well. Enjoy!
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Caldecott Medal Book). Simms Taback Age 3 and up
This book was at our synagogue’s book fair and drew me in with its beautiful cover, then the lovely art inside – and all this before I got to its message. Based on a Yiddish song (I Have a Little Overcoat, Hob Ich Mir a Mantl), it even includes the chords, melody line, and lyrics on the last page.
According to Amazon, here’s the gist: “Joseph had a little overcoat, but it was full of holes — just like this book! When Joseph’s coat got too old and shabby, he made it into a jacket . . .”
Activity: Got any musicians in the family? If so, plunk out the melody and have a sing-along. Or take a large piece of paper and cut out a coat. Then see how many new objects you can make, each time making something smaller and smaller.
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It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale. Margot Zemach Age 3 and up
Even though guidelines note that this classic Yiddish tale is for those 3 and older, don’t let this stop you from reading this with older children, too. Super creative folks from our synagogue staged this story as a play some years ago. Once you read the story, you can imagine how much fun that was.
Amazon sets the stage for this tale: “Once upon a time a poor unfortunate man lived with his mother, his wife, and his six children in a one-room hut. Because they were so crowded, the children often fought and the man and his wife argued. When the poor man was unable to stand it any longer, he ran to the Rabbi for help.”
The illustrations will spark conversations about what life was like long ago – and the message will resonate with people of all backgrounds and ages.
Activity: Do your kids have small farm animals in their Lego and other sets? Have them grab some chickens, geese, ducks, goats, and cows to display on your kitchen table for a week. What if these were real animals that lived in your house? Explore this idea at dinner each night.
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A Mountain of Blintzes. Barbara Diamond Goldin Age 5 and up
This title first caught my eye on a Jewish summer reading list for children. Probably because I love blintzes. But then I fell in love with the illustrations and the simple, fluid writing.
Amazon tells us that Sarah and Max want to make a mountain of blintzes for Shavuot, but “their pockets are empty,” so they don’t have the money to make this special treat. The story is about their solution.
Activity: What a great prelude to making blintzes together. No time to cook? Just buy the frozen kind at the supermarket and you’re set to enjoy the book’s message again.
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The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen: 70 Fun Recipes for You and Your Kids, from the Author of Jewish Cooking in America. Joan Nathan Age 9 and up (with adult help)
And, speaking of cooking together, consider this Joan Nathan cookbook. As we’ve come to expect, this one is lovingly illustrated. Joan is also a wonderful writer whose words and anecdotes you’ll cherish.
You’ll find foods from ten major holidays, giving us insights into various cuisines, including Eastern Europe, biblical Israel, and contemporary America. Amazon summarizes this way: Recipes include “everything from hamantashen [triangle-shaped pastry] to pretzel bagels, chicken soup with matzah balls to matzah pizza, fruit kugel [noodle pudding] to Persian pomegranate punch.”
Activity: Choose a menu from the book, like the summer Shabbat spread, and fix as many recipes as you have time for. Two examples are Kids’ Quirky Knishes and Tree of Life Salad with Hummus.
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Stories for Children, Isaac Bashevis Singer Age 8 and up
School Library Journal Review: “This superb collection of stories by Singer brings together both old favorites and tales less familiar to American children . . . Singer writes with wit and imagination; his tales glow with color, wisdom and a deep appreciation of God and the natural world.”
Just by saying the titles of a few of these stories out loud, you can feel the old world come alive. Like “Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus.” And “When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw.”
Even when the kids are old enough to navigate stories and novels themselves, there’s nothing like cozying up with a child to share a chapter. Or, you can get your cup of coffee and have your child read to you!
Activity: We used to read these stories aloud with our girls before bedtime. Since it’s summer, take it one step further and gather everyone on a back porch or deck. Put out lemonade and cookies. Then, using a flashlight, choose a few of the stories to read aloud as darkness descends on your cozy group.
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What Color Is Paradise (Adventures in Art), Elisabeth Lemke Age 10 and up
I might have learned to love art when my mother took me to the National Gallery of Art. We’d wander through the galleries leisurely, then share a piece of pie in the cafeteria.
Got a child or grandchild with an artistic soul? This story about Chagall might be just the ticket.
Beautifully designed, the book includes not just lovely full-color reproductions of Chagall’s paintings, but interesting uses of font sizes and colors, as well as whimsical phrasing rendered in colored ink.
Activity: Get out the paints – or buy an inexpensive set of pastels – and enjoy an afternoon, outside if you can, where you and the kids come up with your own abstract, fanciful images inspired by Chagall. Not a painter? Don’t let that stop you. I remember some wonderful hours painting with our girls, both of whom are artistic. One asked, “What is that Mom? It’s pretty!” (Translation, I think: it doesn’t look like anything, but I’m happy to be painting with you.)
What are your favorite children’s books? Please share them with us.