Every fall, Jews around the world come together to celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, also known as the High Holidays. Five days after Yom Kippur is over, another holiday starts again, this time, it is the wonderful holiday of Sukkot.
Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest and the exodus from Egypt. Many families build their own sukkahs or have one at their synagogue. A sukkah is a temporary hut topped with branches and decorated with autumnal, harvest, or Judaic themes. One mitzvah of sukkot is to share a meal in the sukkah. Another is to shake a lulav and etrog and rejoice before God. The lulav is actually made up of branches from palm (lulav), willow (aravot), and myrtle (hadassim) trees and the etrog is a citron fruit. The four items are meant to represent the various personalities that make up the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity is emphasized on Sukkot. More than anything, sukkot is a holiday of coming together.
Since Sukkot is a holiday of community, it is a great time to come together and read a book to understand the many meanings of the holiday. Continue reading →
At the end of April, Jews across the world will take a special moment to pause and reflect about the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Passover, another Jewish holiday that started Monday night, is also a time where we often focus on commemorating and retelling the tragedy of the Holocaust and the amazing efforts that many Jews took to escape the Nazis and start a new life.
There are many truly amazing books for younger readers about the Holocaust. While a number of them are what you might consider middle grade fiction, and sometimes non-fiction, there are also some picture books that tell the story very well. It is a difficult topic to touch on, so all good books have to tread somewhat lightly and focus on the resilience and perseverance of a nation of people rather than on the tragedy itself. Here are a few of the books we have managed to read.
Many people are very familiar with the name Laura Numeroff from her incredibly well known series “If You Give a Mouse…” We are big fans of that series, but I think we are even bigger fans of her lesser known series “The Jellybeans.”
“The Jellybeans” is a series that is at its core about friendship. The basic concept is that there are four girls who each have different passions but realize that that doesn’t mean that they can’t also be friends. They meet each other in The Jellybeans and the Big Dance and then continue to grow through three other books, each focusing on one of the girls. In the first book Emily notices that the first letters of their names spell out “beans” and she brings the group together by sharing jellybeans with the group.
Just as jellybeans are different flavors but go well together, the girls were all different but got along great – and so they called themselves The Jellybeans.
Both my 5 year old and my 8 year old LOVE these books. The stories are sweet and each girl can see herself in the characters. I love these books too. It is great to see four friends who are so different (and also represented by four different animal species) manage to find their common ground and support each other so beautifully.
The first book in the series is The Jellybeans and the Big Dance. In this book, the main focus is on Emily who loves to dance. She dances while waiting for the bus, while watching TV, even while brushing her teeth. One day she goes to a new dance class full of excitement, but is discouraged to discover that the three other girls in the class are not as excited to be taking the class. Nicole would rather be playing soccer, Bitsy would rather be painting and Anna just has her nose in a book. When one accidentally knocks into their dance cubbies and knocks their name tags down, Emily notices that the first letters of their names spell out “bean.” While she thought that was funny, no one else seems to care. By their fourth class, Emily just feels frustrated. Her mother tries to cheer her up by taking her to the local candy store and once inside she gets the brilliant idea to buy all of the girls a bag of jellybeans in the hopes that perhaps she could find a way to bring the girls together. Her idea worked and then each girl uses her own strengths to bring something special to their dance recital. When Emily has a moment of stage fright, the other girls band together and support her and the performance goes off without a hitch.
My favorite of all of the books is The Jellybeans and the Big Book Bonanza. This book focuses on Anna who is an avid reader who love spending time at the local library. One day the girls’ teacher assigns them all a book report and Anna is excited to bring her friends to her favorite place. But when they get there, each girl complains about how they would rather be doing something else. Even so, the librarian knows that books also come in lots of different flavors and helps each girl find a book that she likes. When they go to give their book reports the next day, Anna gets scared. She loves books, but is not so thrilled about public speaking. Just as she had helped her friends discover books, they stood by her to support her through her report. In her report, she sums it up perfectly.
My youngest daughter has a special soft spot for the book The Jellybeans and the Big Art Adventure. This book focuses on Bitsy and her love of art. In this book, the owner of the local candy store that sells their beloved jellybeans asks the girls to paint a mural on her wall. All of Bitsy’s friends think that they can’t paint, so they took a trip to the art museum and each girl realized that there were many kind of art that appealed to their different sensibilities. After visiting the museum, each girl was excited to create their own art, but suddenly Bitsy had artist’s block. Of course her friends came to her rescue and encouraged her to believe in herself.
Finally, The Jellybeans and the Big Camp Kickoff focuses on athletic Nicole and her love of soccer. When the girls go to sleep-away camp together, everyone finds tons of things to do. When they are encouraged to take a class or participate in a group activity, everyone finds something, except Nicole, because while camp Pook-A-Wow has a lot of sports, they don’t have a soccer team. Nicole tried tons of other sports, but just didn’t like them. Her friends come to her aid by starting a camp soccer team, even though they don’t know how to play. While it isn’t our favorite of the Jellybean books, it continues to shine on the fact that we are our best when we are with our friends and supporting each other.
Both of my girls really enjoy the Jellybean books. They are sweet and having wonderful messages. Most kids, particularly girls, can find themselves in the pages of these books, but they also learn the lesson that sometimes they need to try new things to not only grow themselves, but to help support a friend. If you haven’t already checked out the Jellybean books, you should definitely take a look!