It takes some work these days to find children’s books that are not a bunch of rhyming words pasted onto computer generated, simplistic illustrations, a cash grab disguised as an attempt to teach our kids letters, numbers, shapes and the likes, or the tired expression of overextended brand name X or Y (looking at you, Dora).
The more I frequent public and community libraries, the more little gems I find, like the following three books, discovered hiding in plain sight on the shelves of the Greenberg Families Library at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
Why Noah Chose the Dove, by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Eric Carle.
What to expect from a collaboration between the wonderful Yiddish author who gave us The Golem and Yentl, and the fantastic author-illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Mixed Up Chameleon but a little marvel of a book?
Having heard that Noah is soon to take on his ark only the best of living creatures, all the animals set out to set themselves apart, boasting about their unique qualities and demeaning others’. All except the Dove, who humbly says: “Each one of us has something the other doesn’t have, given us by God who created us all”.
Noah then goes on to reassure anxious animals: he tells them that he loves them all and that they will all have a place on the ark: “I love all of you, but because the dove remained modest and silent while the rest of you bragged and argued, I choose it to be my messenger.” What a nice way to introduce the concept of humility to children, and to remind adults that, although we often experience it that way, life is not about competition.
Never Say a Mean Word Again, A Tale From Medieval Spain, by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard. This little story of two boys who started out as enemies and inadvertently become friends is part of the Wisdom Tales series, which is in itself a treasury of beautiful tales from different cultures and regions around the world, and a great source of unique children’s literature.
In this story inspired by the life of Samuel Ha-Nagid, Samuel is instructed by his impressive father to “make sure Hamza never says a mean word to [him] again”, after Samuel accidentally spilled water and food on Hamza’s tunic. Hamza did not want to believe it was an accident and called Samuel names before running away. As he tries to follow this difficult instruction, Samuel ends up spending a lot of time with Hamza, and the two become good friends. In the end, Samuel’s father asks “Then you did what I asked?”. And Samuel realizes that he did, in fact, do exactly that. A really lovely and timeless story.
The Hidden Artist, by Leah Chana Rubabshi, illustrated by Phyllis Saroff.
This is another take on explaining God to young children as the God of B’Rreshit (Genesis).This gorgeously illustrated poem about a little boy who marvels at the beauty of the world around him is a simple reminder of the abundance and beauty that surrounds us and that we so often forget to look at. Surely, only an artist can be behind such a wonderful world? It is published by Hachai, a Jewish Publisher, and God is called “Hashem”, but only once, at the end of the book, so don’t let it deter you if you are not Jewish: you can always explain that a Jewish person wrote the book, and that Jews call God “Hashem” 😉 There are so few quality books out there that appeal to our little ones’ sense of wonder, don’t deprive yourself of this one.
Another thing to love about this book is that the pages are laminated! They don’t tear, and you can wipe them off in a jiffy in case of accidental snack-time reading spillage. I do try to teach my kids to respect books and treat them well, but I am very grateful when I can let them enjoy a book by themselves, and they certainly appreciate the freedom as well.
What about you? Which books have enchanted your world, as a parent or as a child? I am always looking, so please share 🙂