What Do You Look for in Children’s Books?

Little Girl ReadingWith Hanukkah around the corner, I start thinking about little gifts for our grands – which always include some books.

I picked up two at our town’s charming independent bookstore, where the covers seemed to shout “pick me, pick me!”

For our little guy, I got Ball by Mary Sullivan, a Theodore Geisel Honor Book. It’s got one word. Yes, you guessed it! The illustrations carry the story of the dog who yearns for someone to toss the ball for him – and gets creative when he can’t find a buddy to help him out.

For our older toddler, I got Who’s Next Door? by Mayuko Kishira, illustrated by Jun Takabatake. The fun typography and illustration pulled me in . . . and kept me enthralled to the end.

Art and language – the perfect combo

So the “art” of the book is what captivates me first.

Then I look for language that inspires. Even if it’s extremely simple, I want something with rhythm and grace.

Here are some of my other picks for this year:

Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka.  For kids from pre-K to 1st grade. This is a classic tale that will appeal to little ones who wake up hungry (as our daughter did) or who love to eat (like our grandson). First words: “Old Bear awoke from his winter sleep. He poked his head outside his den . . . to follow the delicious smell.”

So the author has the child’s attention from the beginning.  Then, we meet 97-year-old Bubba Brayna who is fixing potato latkes. Although she’s a fabulous latke maker, her eyesight isn’t what it used to be. So when Old Bear walks into her house, just at the time when she is expecting the Rabbi, the tale of mistaken identity begins.

This is a charming story that I’ll dress up to read. Bubba Brayna covers her head – as I do when I pretend to be “Polish Grandma” during our Skype visits.

Wow! The Garden of Time by Jill Hammer, art by Zoe Cohen. This magnificent, spiritual offering about the seasons was just published in September of this year. Reading the introduction by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso gave me goose bumps. “As the wind blows warm and cold, around and within us, we give meaning to time.”

Each page of the “story” features illustrations covering a large chunk of the page, with six or seven lines of copy below.  Here’s an example of how one page begins: “The path led to autumn. Pomegranates, pumpkins, and apples shone. Rain glittered in the sky.”

I believe this is a book that will grow in meaning over the years. For our younger toddler, I will focus mostly on the pictures. He is amazing at finding surprises in the images. For our older little guy, I will read some of the words – maybe half of them.

In a year or two, he will be able to read it to me. And that will be a glorious thing. “Always, there was a circle of sun and rain, night and day, seed and fruit, earth and sky.”

For parents and grandparents who love beautiful rhythm, this is a stellar choice!

For an older child, say 9 and up, consider Noah’s Wife: The Story of Naamah by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. The story tells the tale of Naamah, Noah’s wife, who gathers the seeds as Noah corrals the animals.

Coming soon. What Zeesie Saw on Delancey Street is scheduled for publication in November of this year.  it looks wonderful to me. I’ll order it and let you know what I think.

Your turn

What are some of your favorite Hanukkah and other children’s stories?

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 Other posts you might like:

Hanukkah Gifts for Young Children

6 Summer Reads Plus Activities

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