For the past few weeks I have been working on an Israel unit with my Hebrew school class. It is very hard to get a group of 7-8 year old excited about a place that is so far away from them, so a key way that I have tried to make it a little more interesting is to bring in a wide variety of picture books to capture their attention and engage them. As a member of the PJ Library we have been fortuante to get some of our books sent to us, but I have also built up quite the library over the years.
A new book that I recently received direct from author Laura Gehl is Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel. This takes the oft told story about how slow and steady wins the race, but seen through the comical lens of Hare and Tortoise making their way from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea. Before the race begins, you get a quick view of the fun things the pair like to do in Tel Aviv, the most metropolitan city in Israel. The two decide to race and of course Hare makes it to Jerusalem first and starts to soak in the local culture, complete with signs in both Hebrew and English. Tortoise manages to catch up and off Hare goes again. From Jerusalem, Hare continues east towards the dead sea and enjoys a quick stop for tea at an oasis then takes a quick nap under a palm tree, just steps from the finish line. As the story always goes, Tortoise manages to make it to the finish line first and then both soak their tired bodies in the rejuvenating Dead Sea. This is a wonderful romp through Israel that the kids definitely enjoyed. (Stay tuned for a special interview post with Laura Gehl)
Another favorite series of ours that focuses on learning other cultures are the Bella and Harry books by Lisa Manzione. When we saw that there was a book on Jerusalem, of course we had to add it to our library. This books focuses on Jerusalem, but also tours Masada and the Dead Sea. The main focus is the old city, and while there is a slight focus on the Jewish history, the book does do a great job of showing that Jerusalem is a historic region for a variety of religions. As with all of the Bella and Harry books, there is also a fun portion about local foods and fun Hebrew words and phrases.
Speaking of book series, a great Jewish series for younger children are the Sammy Spider books. We probably own nearly every book in this series, so of course we had to have a copy of Sammy’s first trip to Israel. Many of the Sammy Spider books not only focus on a specific topic, such as a holiday, but many of them also have a theme like shapes, sounds, counting, etc. The Israel book focuses on the five senses. In this book, Sammy accidentally stows away in Josh Shapiro’s suitcase when his family goes to Israel. He visits the beaches of Tel Aviv, strolls along Dizengoff Street, rides the bus to Jerusalem, visits a kibbutz, explores the old city of Jerusalem, rides camels in the Negev, snorkels in Eilat, and floats in the Dead Sea. Throughout his journey, he also explores the different sounds, tastes and sights of being in a different country. This is one of the best Sammy Spider books and also works well for a slighter older age group. A wonderful book to be a part of your collection.
Another awesome book is Zvuvi’s Israel, by Tami Lehman-Wilzig. What is wonderful about this is that it manages to get kids and adults excited about Israel. Zvuvi is a fly that takes you on a whirlwind trip across all of Israel showing pieces of the country that I never knew existed. This continues to be one of my older daughter’s favorite books and she is dreaming of the day that she gets to visit Israel. One of the truly wonderful things about this book is how it covers such a wide variety of cities in Israel. In addition, the illustrations are truly fun and kids love to try and find the flies when they are hidden in various pictures.
As a part of our Hebrew school curriculum, I discovered the amazing book The Great Israel Scavenger Hunt, by Scott Blumenthal. This book is almost like a textbook, but written as a story as well. An American boy travels to Israel with his family and on the airplane over receives a cryptic letter from his grandfather telling him of a scavenger hunt that he is to do while in Israel. He is joined by his Israeli cousin and the two travel across Israel in search of the special objects, including the Israeli flag, a palm tree, and the Western Wall.
As they travel, Daniel and your students learn about the major cities and extraordinary sites of Israel, the diversity of Israel’s people and cultures, our biblical and modern ties with the Jewish homeland, and the geography of Israel. They also learn key Hebrew terms, such as Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), Ivrit (Hebrew),shalom (hello, goodbye, and peace), and they learn about important Jewish values, such as rodef shalom (pursuing peace) and ahavat Tzion (love of Israel), that are linked to chapter content.
This is a truly wonderful book that is a great way to educate kids about Israel in a fun and engaging way.
The final book that we have found that really allows kids to explore Israel is a wonderful non-fiction book called Let’s Go Explore Israel. This book is absolutely gorgeous! The book is broken down into 6 sections – Places to go, Sights to see, Culture to experience, People to know, Curiosities to Consider, and Words to work on. It is incredibly in-depth and full of absolutely stunning pictures. This is actually a part of a series that has a few other books – Jerusalem, Galilee, and Egypt. Interestingly, this is published by a Christian book company but does not have any religious overtones in any way. If you are looking for an amazing non-fiction book on culture and geography, this is a must have.