It’s almost Hanukkah! If you’re looking for some special stories for the holiday, here are eight favorite Jewish writers for children:
Eric A Kimmel has written original Hanukkah stories such as Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins and The Chanukkah Guest. He’s probably even better known for his folk tales, though, ranging from traditional Jewish stories to stories from all sorts of other cultures (including one of my favorite books for storytime, Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock).
Another expert teller of folk tales is Howard Schwartz. I didn’t know about his collections of Jewish stories until he visited my college campus, telling spooky tales one Halloween. The Day the Rabbi Disappeared: Jewish Holiday Tales of Magic is an excellent example of his work. The stories read beautifully on their own, but after each story he also includes notes about Jewish holidays, history, and beliefs to allow any reader a deeper understanding of the tales.
Maurice Sendak is drawing lots of attention right now due to the movie based on his book Where the Wild Things Are. He has illustrated his own writing, traditional rhymes, and works by other authors such as Ruth Krauss (A Hole is to Dig) and Else Minarik (Little Bear).
Another author with appealing monster (and non-monster) characters is Joann Sfar, author of the comics Little Vampire and Sardine in Outer Space. For stories with a lot of silly humor, they include a surprising amount of thoughtful content including well-rounded adult characters and discussions of Jewish identity.
Uri Shulevitz won a Caldecott award way back in 1969 for imaginatively illustrating The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. Last year he earned a Caldecott honor for How I Learned Geography, based on his own story of a map giving his imagination new places to travel as he was growing up in a refugee camp.
Isaac Bashevis Singer is another author I didn’t encounter until adulthood. There’s no reason to wait, though, because he has written wonderful books for kids. My first recommendation in the current cold weather is the title story in the short story collection Zlateh the Goat, and Other Stories; this tale is full of warmth and gentleness.
Sydney Taylor is a particular favorite of our department head, Miss Wendy. All-of-a-Kind Family and its sequels tell the story of five sisters growing up in New York almost a hundred years ago. The books feature everyday ups and downs in a loving family punctuated by celebrations of the Jewish holidays.
Author and illustrator Simms Taback drew on traditional Jewish sources for the books Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (a Caldecott award-winner) and Kibitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda (Grandfather) Told Me. He has also written original picture books of his own (like the recent I Miss You Every Day) and illustrated the work of other authors, especially Harriet Ziefert.
And speaking of Harriet Ziefert… this list is just a short introduction to some wonderful Jewish literature for kids. To find more, you can visit the Jewish Book Council website or ask a librarian for help. –Miss Sarah