Inside: Celebrate the holidays with these wonderful Jewish children’s books that will help little ones learn all about Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Check out our list of favorites!
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Jewish Children’s Books to Celebrate Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah!
With the arrival of crimson leaves and bright orange pumpkins, Jewish families around the world usher in some of the most important days on the Jewish calendar — the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, followed by Sukkot and Simchat Torah!
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are among the holiest and most important days of the Jewish year.
Rosh Hashana translates to “head of the year.”
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, commemorates the anniversary of creation. It is a time when families celebrate with many traditions, including eating a round challah to symbolize the cycle of the year and for blessings to continue without end, dipping apples into honey to symbolize a sweet year, and blowing a ram’s horn, called the shofar. In a ceremony called Tashlich, many Jews walk to a river or pond and toss bread crumbs into the water, which is a gesture symbolic of tossing away sins.
Ten days after Rosh Hashana ends, Yom Kippur begins.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.
It is a day where Jewish people seek to make up for any wrongdoings made during the prior year. Rather than focusing on what happened to Jews long ago, Yom Kippur is a day of personal reflection, a day to consider our individual behavior. Every person everywhere makes mistakes, and Yom Kippur allows us to ask for forgiveness and make up for our sins. On Yom Kippur, Jews fast to atone for these missteps.
Sukkot is a week-long Harvest Celebration.
Sukkot is a joyful week that begins just five days after Yom Kippur. During Sukkot, Jewish people build sukkahs, hut-like structures that symbolize the dwellings Jews lived in as they wandered in the desert for forty years. The sukkah has three walls and a thatched roof which provides protection from the sun but also allows the stars to be seen from the inside. During the week of Sukkot, meals are eaten in the sukkah as often as possible, and the Jews invite others to share in their feast during this time. In commemoration of the harvest bounty, it is tradition to hold and shake four species of plant, including the palm, myrtle, willow (or the “lulav”) and the citron (“etrog.”)
Simchat Torah marks the end of the year’s Torah reading.
Throughout the year, the Jewish people read from the Torah, which contains all five books of Moses. Simchat Torah follows Sukkot and marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of the Torah readings. It is a joyous celebration with singing and dancing, wherein all Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and danced around the synagogue seven times.
Read about these important Jewish holidays with your children!
Whether you want stories to read with your kids as you celebrate the holidays yourselves, or you simply want to educate your kids or students that do not celebrate the Jewish holidays, these are the picture books we love about Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
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Jewish Children’s Books: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur
It’s Shofar Time!, by Latifa Berry Kropf with photographs by Tod Cohen: This is the perfect book to read with young children who are just beginning to learn about the Jewish New Year. With kid friendly photographs and simple text explaining traditions like blowing the shofar, eating apples and honey, and throwing crumbs into the water for Tashlich, this is a great introduction to Rosh Hashana to read with toddlers.
Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, by Deborah Heiligman: This beautiful book highlights how the Jewish holidays are celebrated world wide, from Jerusalem, Israel to Porto, Portugal, from Morocco to India to Mexico. From unique customs to shared traditions, children will learn that Judaism is practiced and observed by people living all around the globe, with all ringing in a sweet New Year and subsequently pondering how to atone, ask for forgiveness, and remember those in need.
New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashana Story, by April Halprin Wayland and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch: During Tashlich, everyone admits their mistakes, tosses bread crumbs into the water, and begins the new year fresh. But as Izzy finds himself thinking about those things he must apologize for, one of them — telling a friend’s precious secret — is hard to admit. We love the way this book about the new year resonates with children who must apologize for their own misdeeds throughout the year. Authentic and relatable, this one always gets kids to stop, think, and place themselves squarely in the story to consider the ways in which they can say “I’m sorry” to those they love.
When the Chickens Went on Strike: A Rosh Hashana Tale, by Erica SIlverman and illustrated by Matthew Trueman: Every Rosh Hashana, Jewish people world wide participate in traditions they believe will chase away bad luck and attract the good. Kapores, the act of holding a clucking chicken over one’s head and saying a prayer (which transfers all bad deeds to the chicken), is one of those traditions. But what happens if the chickens go on strike? This imaginative story places readers squarely in the chickens’ perspective and is a fun twist on the Rosh Hashana story!
The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story, by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn: This is my very favorite read aloud for Yom Kippur, one I read to all of my elementary students during the holiday. In this story, the Ziz is a clumsy bird who accidentally knocks down a tree that destroys the children’s garden. He flies to Mount Sinai to ask for God’s help to fix the garden, and God tells the Ziz that he must bring back the hardest word. But what on earth is the hardest word? This classic story conveys the importance of atonement, and the beauty of forgiveness. It’s a classic — and read aloud gold!
Gershon’s Monster: A Story for the Jewish New Year, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Jon Muth: Gershon was not a righteous man. In fact, he never offered forgiveness, never atoned for his misdeeds, and instead just swept them into the basement. But will his selfish acts prevent him and his wife from having kids? And if they do have kids, will the kids be safe from Gershon’s monster? At once insightful and suspenseful, this is a powerful tale of repentance that older children will love!
The Magic of Kol Nidre: A Yom Kippur Story, by Bruce H. Siegel and illustrated by Shelly O. Haas: A young boy attends synagogue on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. As they sit together, the boy’s grandfather tells him to get ready for magic when the cantor sings Kol Nidre three times. The story follows the boy as he grows and attends services with his own baby, and then his grandson, all of whom explore the mysteries of this haunting melody that is sung world wide on this holy night.
Sammy Spider’s FIrst Yom Kippur, by Sylvia Rouss and illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn: This is a wonderful Yom Kippur book for your toddlers, a part of the Sammy Spider series that helps the youngest readers learn about the Jewish holidays. In this installment, Sammy Spider watches Josh and his family during the Yom Kippur holiday. Though Josh’s Mom tells him to put his ball outside, Josh doesn’t listen and instead bounces the ball around the house – and proceeds to break his family’s treasured honey jar. Sammy learns all about forgiveness, especially when Josh apologizes to Sammy and his mother for breaking their web. My littlest students adore Sammy Spider!
Red, Blue and Yellow Yarn: A Tale of Forgiveness, by Miriam R. Kosman and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev: Whenever his grandma Bubby stayed with his family, Donny always got himself into trouble. Bubby had so many rules and Donny somehow always broke them! One day Donny gets himself into a really big mess — with grandma’s precious yarn strewn and tangled all around her room. Luckily, Donny’s Bubby goes easy on him — and reveals some special secrets that grandparents and grandchildren always share.
Jewish Children’s Books: Sukkot and Simchat Torah
Who’s Got the Etrog?, by Jane Kohuth and illustrated by Elissambura: In this fabulously illustrated and entertaining book, Auntie Sanyu constructs a sukkah right in the middle of her Ugandan garden. Lots of wildlife come to check it out, including a warthog, a lion and a giraffe, and they are all eager to celebrate Sukkot. Each animal hopes to shake the lulav and smell the etrog, but one of the animals wants these special items all for himself. Will he learn to share?
Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast, by Jamie Korngold and illustrated by Julie Fortenberry: Sadie and Ori wake up with excitement on the first day of Sukkot, and they can’t wait to take their breakfast outside — they will eat it in the sukkah, of course! But the kids remember that when they eat in the sukkah, they must invite special guests to share in their feast. Their parents aren’t up yet — will they find friends to invite?
The Mysterious Guests: A Sukkot Story, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Katya Krenina: This is one of my very favorite Jewish Children’s Books, one that mesmerizes my students year after year. Two brothers, one wealthy and greedy and the other poor and gracious, each build a sukkah. One sukkah is grand, the other modest. Each brother is greeted by three mysterious guests in their respective sukkahs, and these guests are treated in radically different ways. Upon their departure, the guests leave behind some unique gifts for each brother — gifts that reward generosity over everything and may cause one brother to change his selfish ways.
Shanghai Sukkah, by Heidi Smith Hyde and illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong: On his tenth birthday, Marcus is not celebrating at home, but fleeing the Holocaust in Europe instead. He and his parents are on an ocean liner headed for China. Marcus worries his new neighborhood in Shanghai will never feel like home, but with the help of a new friend and a rabbi’s curious riddle, Marcus sets out to build a sukkah in his new home, right on the roof of their new building, just in time for Sukkot.
Night Lights: A Sukkot Story, by Barbara Diamond Goldin and illustrated by Louise August: It’s nighttime, and Daniel and his sister Naomi are having an adventure. They are going to sleep in the sukkah — without any grownups! But — there’s nowhere in the sukkah to plug in a night light. And it’s a bit scary outside. Leave it to Naomi to help Daniel feel calmer — and to find a comforting way to remember their ancestors and the magic of Sukkot.
On Sukkot and Simchat Torah, by Cathy Goldberg Fishman and illustrated by Melanie Hall: Through beautiful illustrations and lyrical prose, this book is a perfect introduction to these two holidays. After the stillness and reflection of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, one family rings in the joy of Sukkot and Simchat Torah by performing celebratory traditions with family and friends, from building their own sukkah to dancing around the synagogue seven times when the Torah reading is finished and begun again. Beautiful!
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