Teaching the true meaning of the High Holidays

high holiday booksWe are currently celebrating the 10 days of awe that separate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. Technically, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, but that doesn’t mean much to a child or to a non-Jewish person. Together, these two days are the time that we are most encouraged to look inward about how we have behaved towards God and towards our fellow man during the past year. We are asked to consider what we have done that was good and what was not so good and we are supposed to figure out ways to be better in the coming year.

Understandably, the best way for children to comprehend these heady topics is for them to be in story format. The following are some of our favorites that focus on the different facets of the holidays.

engineer ariEngineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride – In this story, Ari has been chosen to engineer the first train from Jaffa to Jerusalem. In his excitement, he is very boastful towards his fellow engineers and then forgets to even say goodbye to them. As he travels through Israel picking up Rosh Hashanah treats for the children of Jerusalem, things that he sees remind him of his friends and he starts to think of how he acted towards them. By the time that he gets to Jerusalem he knows what he has to do:

“On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we apologize for our mistakes. We do teshuvah. Teshuvah means turning ourselves around and promising to do better.”

What is nice about this book is that it covers the symbols of Rosh Hashanah while also driving home a huge point about making amends for our actions and promising to do better in the new year. This is always a favorite among the kids.

birthday of the worldToday is the Birthday of the World – Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and the time that we are reminded of the birth of the world. The days of awe call for teshuva (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (righteous acts). Within this beautiful story, children are able to visualize the beauty of  “price-less” gift giving – we can all celebrate the birthday of the world by giving back to the earth. Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is a very important part of Jewish culture and children can see that each animal plays its part and that every human can do their part as well, from planting a garden to sharing their toys. This book is also a great way to start a conversation about recycling, cleaning up trash and generally making the world a better place to live in.

daliaHow Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter Inside a Tiny Blue Box – In keeping with the theme of tzedakah, this book is a wonderful way to show children the value of tzedakah. Every Jewish child learns about tzedakah boxes and is encouraged to collect their pennies and other small change to give to those in need. The impact of this task, however, is difficult for many children to comprehend. Small change doesn’t seem to add up to much, and how will it make a difference to others? In this story, a young girl collects her coins and when her brother asks what is in the box, she jokes with him by telling him that it is a yellow comforter. When she adds more money, she tells him that now it is a yellow comforter plus a butterfly bush. He can’t understand what is going on and she finally brings him with her to Sunday school on the day that her class will take all of the money that they have raised to purchase items and bring them to an old, lonely woman. The young boy learns that small acts add up and that the biggest gift they were able to give the woman was the gift of their company.

rude vegetablesTalia and the Rude Vegetables – In this sweet story, when young Talia’s grandmother asks her to pick root vegetables for their Rosh Hashanah stew, Talia misunderstands thinking that she asked for rude vegetables.  When she wonders what a rude vegetable could be, she remembers being bossy to her brother and rude to her parents. With Rosh Hashanah coming up, she realizes that she needs to ask for their forgiveness. She then gets down to the business at hand. She starts digging up vegetables, but when they look beautiful, she figures that they are not what her grandmother is looking for, so she puts them in a separate basket. When the onion is ornery and won’t come out of the ground, into the rude basket it goes. Same with the crooked carrot who mush have pushed and shoved his brothers. She winds up gathering two full baskets of vegetables – one rude and one lovely. Not wanting the lovely vegetables to go to waste, she brings them to her rabbi who then distributes them to needy families. Her silly mistake made for a beautiful Rosh Hashanah mitzvah.

zizThe Hardest Word – This story tells the tale of a mythical creature called the Ziz. He is a giant flying bird creature who happens to be something of a klutz. When flying through the air, he sometimes knocks into objects that have repercussions when they fall down to earth. He always tries to fix the problems before anyone notices, but one day he does some damage that he can’t figure out how to repair. The Ziz can’t figure it out on his own, so he goes to Mt. Sinai to have a talk with God. God tells him that he needs to search for “the hardest word.” He brings back a number of words and God keeps telling him that while the word might be hard to hear or hard for a child to say, it isn’t the hardest word. After bringing God more than 100 words, he hangs his head and tells God that he is sorry, but that he can’t find the hardest word. In that one instance, God tells him that he has finally found it – “sorry” is the hardest word. This really focuses on the truth behind teshuva – actually going up to the person that you have wronged and apologizing is a very difficult thing to do. The Mishnah says “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.” We must do the hardest act and actually apologize to those that we have wronged. They may or may not accept that apology, but it is the only way to clear your soul. In a culture where we are so used to saying a blanket sorry for everything, it is good for children to learn that there is so much more to it.

One Watermelon Seed – a numbers book we love

Do you ever go to the library and find yourself checking out the same book over and over? This is our book. My 3 year old absolutely loves the book One Watermelon Seed. She has figured out how to get onto the children’s computerized catalog and find it so that she can show it to me and I can know where to go get it (in the easy reader LO, in case you were wondering). The first time I read it to her  it felt incredibly familiar and I realized that I had read it to J when she was the same age. As an adult, I’m not sure what resonates on such a powerful level for her, but it sure does grab her attention.

One Watermelon Seed is a counting/numbers book with beautiful, vivid illustrations. The story is that two little children are planting a garden and watching it grow. So not only do we get great numbers, but they are exposed to 10 different fruits and vegetables.

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The first part of the book is the planting process, where kids can easily count the items – 1 watermelon seed, 2 pumpkin seeds, etc. When it transitions to the harvesting section the numbers increase in increments of 10 – “Max picked thirty eggplants, dark and purple, and forty peppers, shiny yellow.”

It is a simple book, but it manages to get its point across while capturing the attention of my child.

Your life as…a different twist on non-fiction picture books

While wandering the non-fiction section of the library recently, I found a pretty neat book about life in Ancient Egypt. J has long been fascinated with Ancient Egypt and the role of pharaohs due to her love of Passover, so I thought it would be worth bringing home. This is an interesting twist to your standard non-fiction picture book.

your life pharaoh

The concept of the “Your Life As” series is that the reader has been given the lead role in a school play. This particular play/book is Life in Ancient Egypt, but other books include being a cabin attendant on the Titanic, a cab boy on a pirate ship and a settler in Colonial America.

With this as your jumping off point, you then delve into the facts of the given book in order to learn about your role. A portion of each page is written in story format as if you were living a day in the life. These are all backed up by factual boxes with relevant information. For example, on the spread below, you learn that the Pharaoh collected taxes from his subject in various ways.

pharoah taxes

This is a great and engaging non-fiction series and J is already asking for more.

how far can a little girl dream?

I know that I’ve written about these books before (here and here), but my three year old has decided that she simply loves Isabella. That being the case, I couldn’t help but get my hands on the one book in the series that we hadn’t yet read. Now that we’ve read them all, I thought they deserved their own post.

The Isabella books are about a little girl with a marvelous imagination who pretends to be women in history, traveling to extraordinary places, and within the pages of classic stories. Her parents fantastically go along with all of her adventures and encourage her creative thinking.

isabellaIn the first book of the series, My Name is Not Isabella, Isabella explores amazing women in history. From Sally Ride to Rosa Parks and even Marie Curie, Isabella explores some super strong women and knows that she can be anything she wants to be if she dares to dream big. Younger children won’t know who many, if not all, of these women are, but the books allow room to open up that dialogue to explain things. After the story, we learn more about each of these super women so that older children have room to grow with the book.

The second book in the series, which is the one we just got, is Isabella: Girl on the Go. In this installation, Isabella is spending the day with her father. Rather than being someone famous, here she pretends that she is in amazing destinations with various careers. There is nothing that she can’t imagine doing from archeologist to artist, warrior to queen. By pretending that her sandbox is an archeological site in Egypt to her garden being in the heart of Paris, she escapes her surroundings and the whole world becomes her playground. As with all of the Isabella books, after the story ends are 2 pages that go into detail about the locations with a quick blurb explaining each job.

The third book is currently E’s favorite of the series – Isabella: Star of the Story. This is a book shining a loving spotlight on books and the library. Mom and Dad are taking Isabella to the local library and as soon as she gets inside she heads “second star to the right and straight on to the children’s room.” Through the pages of the story, Isabella jumps into various books as she decides what she wants to check out. This is a great way to show of a love of great books, many of which are familiar to children.

We have been highly impressed with this series and both girls can get something different from the books. The tagline of the series is “Just how far can a little girl dream” and the answer is that there is a whole world of possibilities out there.



grimmtasticHours and hours in the car on summer vacation leads to a lot of good reading time for the young one. We found a new series before hitting the road that J has just been devouring – The Grimmtastic Girls.

We saw these books when wandering the aisles of a Barnes & Noble. Total tangent here, but this is why it is so sad that books stores are failing. You find new books by just wandering. I love my little local book store, but it can’t compare to a store with more room to house a wider selection of books. Okay, I digress. These books are written by Joan Holub of the Goddess Girls series, which actually made me have to think about whether or not J could read them. I am not a fan of the Goddess Girls books. I started reading the first book in the series and was put off by the writing, the pettiness, and the sheer brainless conversation. In looking at Wikipedia, I see now that the first book was written in 2003 and the later books were not written until 2010, so perhaps they improve greatly – they get good reviews from people I trust, so I do need to give them a better chance. For now, the Grimmtastic Girls series seems like a better group of books and so far J has inhaled the first two.

The concept behind this series is that the characters live in Grimmlandia and attend the prestigious Grimm Academy. We first meet Cinda on her first day of school where her step-sisters, “the steps,” try to make her life miserable by not informing her about rules at the school, give her bad information, and yet want her to cozy up to the new Prince so that he dances with them at the upcoming ball. Luckily, Cinda befriends Red, Rapunzel and Snow White and together they maneuver the school.

J laughs out loud when she reads these books. She feels connected to the characters and has already decided that she is most like Red who has a love of acting. The books take a start from the classic fairy tales, but they are definite retellings and the characters have unique characteristic traits. Cinda is a tomboy who hates dancing and loves sports. She signs up for balls class because her step-sisters have convinced her that it is the equivalent of gym.  Red is a girl born to act who unfortunately has a bade case of stage freight. Red also has a bad sense of direction and a crush on a boy named Wolfgang who just might be a member of the E.V.I.L. society.

These are a fun read for a young reader 2nd grade and up.


Good books for Young Readers

Summer is progressing beautifully. J really needed a break from school and has enjoyed spending a ton of time reading her books and listening to audio books. I think that she is enjoying timing herself to see how long she is reading. It is almost comical, when I signed her up for our local library challenge I put our goal at 1500 minutes for the summer and she is already at over 1400! I don’t even bother including the time in the evening when we read Harry Potter together. And it we really are reading together – whenever Hermione speaks she is the one to act it out.

Anyhoo, at one point I hat promised a list of good books that were appropriate for young readers her age. So we’re talking books that are good for 1st grade through 3rd or 4th grade. While I was working on that list, I also thought about books that I would like to see J read that she hasn’t yet.

So here is the list of books that we have already read:Books we Recommend

  • A-Z Mysteries
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Cam Jansen
  • Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Flat Stanley
  • Ivy & Bean
  • Judy Moody
  • Magic Treehouse
  • Mermaid Tales
  • Nancy Drew
  • Ramona
  • Rescue Princesses
  • Tuesdays at the Castle
  • Whatever After

While figuring out some books I would recommend to our friends, I also have a list of books that I would like to see J expand her horizons with. A couple are my husband’s suggestions, but they are all good books that take us a bit away from our normal comfort zone. The thing with J that I noticed is that she does not want to read a book if there is not a strong female lead. We almost had problems with Harry Potter until she realized that Hermione would have a big role. So here are some of the books that I think she might enjoy:Books I'd like us to read

  • Ella Enchanted
  • Encyclopedia Brown
  • Fablehaven
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • James & The Giant Peach
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Matilda
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
  • Once Upon a Marigold
  • The Enchanted Wood
  • The Ordinary Princess
  • The Thirteenth Princess
  • The Wide-Awake Princess
  • Trumpet of the Swan
  • Wonder

Do you have good books that you think should be included?

Spicing up Summer Reading

Part 2 in finding new ways to make summer reading more fun…

Timing your reading and logging what you’ve done will only take you so far. Although J is already on a roll. Last night she logged 35 minutes in our library challenge and wrote a review to the book she finished (Rosemary in Paris). This was her review, with only a tiny bit of help from me -

This book was about three girls named Rosemary (Rose for short), Sophie and Gracie. Rose goes back in time by flipping a magical hourglass and this book takes place in Paris in 1889. The girls went after 12 thieves in order to get Gracie’s locket back from one of the thieves. When Rose chased the thief that had stolen Grace’s locket, the hourglass had fallen out of her bag. A girl picked it up and threw it in the lake. Then Rose plunged into the lake and got it and 3 men pulled her out of the lake. Then she flipped it over and went back to South Carolina in 2001.

But of course there are tons of resources out there to spice it up. I have to admit that I am a Pinterest addict. I mainly use it for recipes and keeping track of great children’s books, but there are some great ideas out there as well. I will be pinning anything that I see to spice up reading on my children’s book board.

While I was playing around yesterday looking to see what kind of summer reading charts were out there, I found a brilliant concept for changing up what we read. The website Chocolate on My Cranium has a chart called Around the World in 80 Days. The kids have to read a book that takes place in or mentions one of the places on the Summer Reading Bingo card. When they get a bingo they get a special prize. The only rules are a book can only be used once, and that only one book from a series can be used. What a great idea to expand your reading list right? Not only does this website give you the bingo card, but then they have a great list of book ideas. There are of course other ideas including some options from books that I have been eyeing for some time. We are going to have to hit the library and have some fun with this!Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 7.09.50 AM

Looking for a new book for your kid? James Patterson has a website to encourage kid to read and has a selection of book ideas for kids if you are looking for something new. The site is broken down by age group and then book type.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.45.34 AMA source that I ALWAYS return to for book ideas is a fellow blogger Pragmatic Mom. Mia is a prolific blogger and brilliant list maker. She also gathers information from tons of other book bloggers. Check out her post on summer reading lists and then play around on her site to see all of the other fun things she has. To top it off, she also moderates and organizes a list on children’s books on Pinterest.

Another great blogging resource is Erica at What do We Do All Day. She writes a wonderful blog and also has great lists of books. She has pulled together a summer reading resource page as well.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.41.41 AM

Finally, another great website is No Time for Flash Cards. They have come up with a great summer reading challenge for 2014 that starts TOMORROW! She has calendars for June, July and August with missions. This is aimed more at younger readers and focuses on picture books, but still an awesome way to keep reading interesting.

Happy reading!

Adventures in Summer Reading

summer readingSummer is upon us and that means that it is time to find ways to keep kids engaged with their books and reading. Getting J to read isn’t a problem, but I would like to find ways to spice it up for the summer. I also really want to encourage her to keep writing about what she reads. She loves a good challenge and she also loves this blog, so my mind has started to churn.

One big way to make summer reading fun is to make sure that all of her friends are reading and perhaps even taking some cues from the books that she loves. J always enjoys sharing her books with her friends, although her reading level can at times make this challenging. J often talks about being a teacher, so we will be working on our summer reading list for her friends. I’m hoping to get her to write a line or two about each book and why she liked it.

There are a slew of summer reading challenges out there. One big thing that tends to get focused on is reading for a certain amount of time each day. As I said, this is not an issue for us, since I often have to tell her to stop reading and go outside, but I thought it would be fun to join in. Our local library has a wonderful program that encourages reading and coming to great programs at the library. I tried doing the program last year, but struggled with recording the minutes that she read. I just signed her up (locals go to http://tinyurl.com/spplsrp to sign up!) with a goal of 1500 minutes. I have no idea if that is high or low. I figured that it is 13 weeks and it seemed like a nice round number. We also joined Scholastic’s reading program which has a reading timer app that I installed on J’s iPad. The program at our library allows kids to earn “book bucks” as they read and the more they read, the bigger the prizes they can receive at the end of summer. We will get additional bucks for coming to some awesome programs that the library is having over the summer kicking off with a Mad Scientist Lab. It’s already on my calendar!Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 10.54.12 AMJ is super excited for some books that we are going to be reading this summer. Until we get our book list going, here is her list of summer reads….

1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – I’ve made her wait months before she could move on to book 5 in this series. Given that this book is 870 pages, it might actually take us a little time to get through it!

2. Wednesdays at the Tower (Castle Glower #2) – we both loved Tuesdays at the Castle. This series features an incredibly strong female lead and her siblings who are sworn to protect the castle that they live in. The castle just happens to also be alive and adds something to the building every Tuesday. The first book finds them fighting against an outside presence that wants to take over the castle. In the second book, the castle is hiding some new secret.

3. A Grimm Warning (The Land of Stories #3) – This series by Chris Colfer has become one of our definite favorites that we recommend to EVERYONE! Seriously, girl or boy, adult or child, this is a great series. Who knows what new test the Bailey twins will come up against in this installment.

4. Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot – A friend recommended this book series so I went ahead and bought the boxed set of the first 4 books. The series looks sweet and I think J will enjoy it.

5. Rosemary in Paris (The Hourglass Adventures #2) – We just finished book #1 in this series where a 10 year old girl travels back in time and meets a 10 year old relative. The books are a nice melding of adventure, travel and brain teasers as Rosemary Rita solves various problems and puzzles.

That’s our jumping off point. What summer books are you planning on reading?


Re-imagining Rumpelstiltskin

We are a fairy tale loving family. From picture book classics to the original Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson collections and now on to modern turns and twists, there is a comforting enticement in fairy tales. A current favorite in our household is Rumpelstiltskin.


A few weeks ago, J brought home a book from her school library that I had never heard of – Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter. We both thought that it was fantastic. The book is a fractured fairy tale with the “what if” storyline of what if the miller’s daughter refuses to marry the king and instead runs off with Rumpelstiltskin? Years after Rumpelstiltskin had spun straw into gold, his daughter, Hope, travels through the village selling the golden coins spun by her father. The king greedily tries to have Hope spin for him, but instead she tricks the king into doing good for his kingdom.

What an awesome story! Haven’t you always read the traditional Rumpelstiltskin story and wondered why in the world she marries the greedy king who repeatedly threatens to kill her? The original story has so many odd aspects to it that it is ripe for additional interpretations. But when J announced after reading Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter that it was one of her favorite fairy tales, I felt that it was the perfect time to introduce another version of the story that I had just read – the middle-grade novel Rump.

Rump is the story of Rumpelstiltskin from his perspective. This great book attempts to explain Rumpelstiltskin’s actions and also give a story to why the miller would lie and say that his daughter could spin gold when she obviously could not. At 12 Rump discovers that he can spin straw into gold, and in a world where everyone is barely scraping by and mining for gold that seems to have run dry, this seems like a godsend. But Rump soon discovers that being able to spin straw into gold is more of a curse than anything else. The story gives an alternate view of the story and insight into all of Rump’s actions. Rump then must go on a quest to find a way to rid himself of his curse. I wasn’t sure how J would respond to this story, as there are a lot of mature themes about fate, karma, fair trading practices and greed. I was pleasantly surprised when she fully enjoyed the story. Of course she didn’t get the deeper meanings, but she understood a lot of it and enjoyed the journey that Rump had to take.

We have also recently seen another version of the Rumpelstiltskin story within  Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns. This is book 2 of a series we have fully enjoyed (and are waiting for our pre-ordered copy of book 3) in which two children enter the world of fairy tales. The character of Rumpelstiltskin gets introduced in this book as someone who had been tricked by the evil Enchantress to kidnap a baby princess as part of her plan to take over the world. He regretted what he had done and found the loophole out by making the deal of giving the baby back if the Queen could guess his name. After over 120 years in prison, poor Rumpelstiltskin thought he was done with the Enchantress, but she managed to come back even more powerful than before.

What is so fabulous about fractured fairy tales is that they take a story that we think we know so well and turn it on it’s head. By doing that, it makes us think more. For young children, it also opens up their eyes to different forms of creativity. Yes, kids can write things from scratch, but sometimes budding young authors need a little nudge to help them get a story going and taking something they know and changing it around is a great lesson in creativity. There is always another way to look at things.

Pinkalicious – a love/hate relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with the well known character of Pinkalicious. I should preface this with the fact that I also have a love/hate relationship with the color pink. I have never liked pink, but of course having two girls, pink is a big part of our repertoire. It is impossible to avoid purchasing pink clothes and my oldest went through a massive pink phase years ago. Luckily she has moved on to blue, but it is hard to escape pink with all of the insane marketing that exists these days. The funny part is that I don’t hate the color as much as I used to and even have incorporated some pink into my own wardrobe. But I digress.


The first book, aptly titled “Pinkalicious,” is a funny story about a girl who eats too many pink cupcakes and literally turns pink. The other hardcover books, however, I often find cringeworthy. Purpilicious has bullies and poor Pinkalicious spends most of the book hating herself; Silverlicious deals with the nice idea of not being able to taste sweet things if we are unkind to others, but does it by promoting the commercialized characters of holidays (and I’m not thrilled to see Easter and Christmas in non-holiday themed books). Emeraldicious is just sort of blah to me, although it does bring the nice message of cleaning up the earth even if it does it with magic instead of actual hard work.

On the flip side, when you step away from the expensive hard-cover books and move into the I Can Read books and the “more Pinktastic stories” there are some actual gems to be found. When we were in California over spring break, I made a trip to the local library to find some books for my girls to enjoy while at my parents’ house and for me to enjoy blogging about. I found a collection of Pinkalicious stories that included many that had wonderful messages. So why the disconnect between these books and the big name versions? I think perhaps the high end picture books try to hard and focus so much on the art work that the story suffers.pink

Since I have been pretty hard on some of the books in the series, I wanted to give a little bit of blog space to the books that are better. These were some of the quality stories from the collection we read in April.

The Pinkerrific Playdate – In this story, a new girl starts at Pinkalicious’s school and she’s excited to have a playdate. When the day comes, Pinkalicious has everything planned out but they can’t get to it all because they are having too much fun just talking about their favorite books, best birthdays, their teacher…This especially hits home for us since J got very specific around her last birthday, but in the end, her girlfriends just had fun doing what they do best.

Pink Hat Parade – Spring Fling Day is coming and Pinkalicious and Peter are making their hats for the parade. Both want to win. When the day of the parade arrives, it turns out that Peter has made his hat entirely out of chocolate and it melts all over him during the parade. When Pinkalicious wins, she gives her trophy to her brother because she knows how hard he had worked at it. It is a great moral lesson.

The Princess of Pink Slumber Party – At a slumber party one of Pinkalicious’s friends just wasn’t having as good of a time as everyone else. Turns out that she was afraid to sleep over at someone’s house. Pink helped her face her fears and never for a moment made her feel badly about being scared. It is a great story about true friendship.

We’ve read others in the I Can Read series and I’ve been impressed. I wish that these got the same kind of publicity as the fancier picture books.

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