I was invited to a 65th birthday party on Sunday and accepted, happily. A joyous event filled with music, family fun and Israeli spirit was held at the Ravinia Festival grounds—a perfect setting. Maybe you’ve guessed…it was JUF’s annual Israel Solidarity Day, a unique musical and cultural experience marking Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. All the activities were family-friendly, including art projects, face painting, PJ Library reading corners and visits by Shalom Sesame characters.
Musical entertainment was provided by the King David Drummers, the Maccabeats (an a cappella group) and Matisyahu, a reggae and alternative rock musician. Adults and children celebrated and expressed themselves joyfully and spontaneously as singing, drumming and dancing were all around. The weather cooperated and both a three-mile and a one-mile family walk were held—my daughter and I opting to participate in the longer one.
As often happens, I started thinking about books and that led to considering a post suggesting children’s books about Israel. Then I really thought about it. What would that mean…books about Israel? After all, what if someone requested books about the United States? Those books might focus on American history or politics or diversity or a glimpse into everyday, contemporary life. So I’ve put together a sampling of children’s books that depict some facet of Israel, and I hope you find one that will appeal to your grandchild.
Thank You, Trees (ages 1 – 4) authored by Gail Langer Karwoski and Marilyn E. Gootman and illustrated by Kristen Balouch will delight the youngest readers with its rhyming verse and collage-style illustrations. Friends and family are shown both enjoying and taking care of our planet while celebrating Tu B’Shevat (the Jewish Arbor Day).
Good Night Israel (ages 2 – 3) authored by Mark Jasper and Illustrated by Anne Rosen is a board book showcasing the natural and cultural wonders of Israel. The soothing language is perfect for bedtime and the beautiful illustrations complement the simple, yet meaningful, content.
Let’s Visit Israel (ages 1 – 3) authored by Judye Groner and illustrated by Cheryl Nathan follows a little boy’s fun and interesting journey throughout Israel. The story features various modes of travel which should appeal to toddlers.
First Rain (ages 6 – 9) authored by Charlotte Herman and illustrated by Kathryn Mitter is a perfect book for a grandparent and grandchild to read together. Abby moves with her family to Israel and though excited about her new home, misses her grandmother. Through their exchange of letter and e-mails, we learn about life in Israel, but the heart of the story is the special relationship between the grandma and granddaughter. Mitter’s paintings add to the book’s appeal.
Chicken Man (ages 5 – 9) authored and illustrated by Michelle Edwards is the winner of the National Jewish Book Award. The author draws upon her own experiences on an Israeli kibbutz in this story of Rody, the good-natured kibbutznik. A good work ethic and a positive attitude is the message, and it comes wrapped in a humorous package with stylized illustrations that work well with the story.
Yuvi’s Candy Tree (ages 5 – 9) authored by Lesley Simpson and illustrated by Janice Lee Porter is based on the true story of Yuvi Tashome’s daring escape from Ethiopia to Israel as a child.
Harvest of Light (ages 5 – 9) authored by Allison Ofansky offers a different slant on reading about the holiday of Hanukkah. The book’s narrative and photos beautifully depict the age-old practice of growing olives, harvesting them and pressing them to make oil. Told from a young girl’s point of view, we see the beauty of the trees, details of contemporary Israeli life and the family working together. This warm story reminded me of my mother, who grew up in Israel (then Palestine) and whose family grew and harvested grapes and pressed them to make wine.
Israel – Repairing the World (ages 9 – 13) authored by Rabbi Stephen Wise had me at its title. This book offers an interesting and informative look at Israel’s many contributions to the modern world.
Ilan Ramon: Jewish Star (age 9+) authored by Devra Newberger Speregen is one of several books available that capture the courage and heroism of Colonel Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut.
The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu: The Commander of the Entebbe Rescue Force (high school) includes an introduction by Herman Wouk and a foreword by Benjamin and Iddo Netanyahu. This book contains the collection of the Israeli hero’s personal letters written from age 17 through 30 when he was killed during the famous raid on the Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
Reading one of these books with your grandchild will spark discussion and perhaps even further research on a particular topic. If you have spent time in Israel, this would be a perfect time to look at pictures together—perhaps ones of you exploring some of the same settings or engaging in the same activities seen in the book you’ve just read. Or maybe you might want to start planning a future family trip to Israel.