During the summer, children like to forget anything that reminds them of school. But keeping your children intellectually engaged can prevent the so-called “summer slide” when they head back into the classroom.
Reading is one of the best ways to engage the mind. I’ve assembled a collection of books for children of all ages that will not only captivate the imagination, but also illustrate Jewish life.
‘The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew’ by Richard Michelson, Charlesbridge Publishing
This special book for 7- to 10-year-olds tells the story of Eliezer Ben-Yehudah and his son, Ben-Zion, who he had designated to speak only Hebrew while his father modernized the language, created a dictionary and “reinvented” Hebrew.
But what was it like for this young boy who would be the first child to grow up speaking the ancient tongue when those around him were speaking Yiddish? Hebrew may have been “the language of angels” to his learned father, but it was a lonely existence with no one with whom to speak.
The book shows the Hebrew words Ben-Zion learned as he got a dog, whom he named Maher (fast), how the word for ice cream, glida, was invented and other words.
The afterward explains the dialogue; more about Eliezer and his first wife, Devorah; Ben-Zion; the history of Hebrew; Palestine when they were living there; and concludes with a bibliography.
In an interview on the Jewish Book Council website, Michelson said of Ben-Zion, “He would hear only Hebrew until he was 5 years old. That meant, of course, he couldn’t play with the other neighborhood children, and his father went so far as to cover Ben Zion’s ears when cows were mooing and dogs were barking. ... [As an adult] Ben-Zion changed his name to Itamar Ben-Avi. Ben-Avi means ‘son of my father,’ and like his father, he remained interested in words and language throughout his life.” He became a journalist and newspaper publisher.
This is one of the most interesting, creative books to be published for children who may be just learning Hebrew or who have learned some Hebrew.
‘The Six-Day Hero’ by Tammar Stein, Kar-Ben Publishing
This is Tammar Stein’s sixth novel for young adults. Its publication was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.
Motti, a 12-year-old who lives in Jerusalem, is the narrator. He lives with his parents, younger brother and older brother, Gideon, who is in the army. Motti describes the onset of the war, as well as what it means to be a hero, and the heroes of his neighborhood, including an Ethiopian priest, a Holocaust survivor, an old friend of his father, and more.
When the war begins, Motti’s father is called into the reserves, the boy spends time in a bomb shelter and he realizes the true meaning of war.
Geared for 8- to 13-year-olds, this is a very realistic portrayal of life in Jerusalem in 1967 and would be an excellent choice for young people who have been to Israel on visits.
‘A Concert in the Sand’ by Tami Shem-Tov and Rachella Sandbank, Kar-Ben Publishing
This is a charming fictionalized story set in 1936 of the first performance in Tel Aviv of what would become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with Arturo Toscanini as the conductor.
The story is narrated by Uri, a little boy whose parents own a delicatessen in Tel Aviv. Grandma (who only speaks German) comes to get Uri and takes him for a walk — first by the beach, then to a kiosk for a drink, then following the men with funny-shaped cases. They go through the park and the street becomes crowded. Finally, they reach the auditorium and go in.
The authors chose a very original idea of using the intergenerational walk of the grandmother and grandson as the vehicle for the story.
I would not agree that this is a book for 4- to 9-year-olds and would suggest it would be more interesting for 8- to 10-year-olds because of its historical significance.
‘Tisha B’Av: A Jerusalem Journey’ by Allison Ofanansky, Kar-Ben Publishing
This is a lovely photo book where youngsters ages 4 to 9 can learn about a few aspects of Jerusalem through beautiful photographs and narration.
The narrator, a young boy of 8 or 9, is with his Aunt Arava; a teenage girl; and his little brother, Nitzan, as they visit the Western Wall and learn about Tisha B’Av. Then they go to participate in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, sifting through dirt dug out of the Temple Mount.
The back end of the book provides the history of Tisha B’Av.
Author Allison Ofanansky lives in Israel and has produced five other books about Jewish holidays and nature in Israel.
All these books can be found on Amazon.com. JN
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, book reviewer, lecturer and food writer. She was a synagogue librarian in Overland Park, Kansas for 17 years before moving back to Israel where she had lived and worked.