Most people are getting ready for Easter, but in my house we are getting ready for Passover. Passover has always been my favorite holiday and it is one about sharing the story. I have written about books for Passover a few times, but I wanted to present a few additional books this year. Whatever holiday you will be celebrating this spring, may it be wonderful and full of family.
The Passover Scavenger Hunt, by Shanna Silva, is a fun way to learn about Passover for Jews and non-Jews alike. One favorite part of the seder is the hunt for the afikomen – a special piece of matzah that is hidden. After the meal is finished, children are sent around to hunt for the afikomen. The seder cannot be completed until the afikomen is found and everyone takes a symbolic taste. This comical book has a young girl get tired of her uncle’s obvious hiding places and instead creates a scavenger hunt for the kids in her family to participate in in order to find the afikomen. Each clue also explains parts of the Passover Seder.
One of the important traditions of Passover is to leave a seat for Elijah and to pour an extra cup of wine for him. Elijah is supposed to tell the coming of the Messiah. In addition, Passover is a time to truly welcome the stranger because we were once strangers in Egypt. For both of these reasons, A Place for Elijah, by Kelly Easton Ruben, is a great book for Jews and non-Jews alike to understand Passover. It is the first night of Passover and a family of 5 gets ready for the seder. As they consider leaving the door open for Elijah, they remark on how cold it is outside and then that the power of everyone across the street has gone out. One by one, their neighbors from across the street come to their house and are welcomed at the seder. They also learn the story and the symbolism of all the food. An unexpected gem!
A number of years ago I heard of the book The Passover Parrot, by Evelyn Zusman. This year, we received a revamped copy of the book from the PJ Library and the book is better than ever. The original was published in 1983 and had very limited colors. This newer edition is illustrated by Krysten Brooker and the images bring the story to life. When a young girl is prepping to recite the 4 questions at the seder, no one in her family will listen to her. She winds up reciting them to their parrot, who mimics her right back. Kar-Ben Publishing also does a wonderful job with a concise telling of the Passover story itself at the beginning of the book.
Passover is a time to be with family. It is a time of traditions. We take comfort in hearing the story, singing the same songs, acknowledging the plagues, and tasting certain foods. In A Different Kind of Passover, Linda Leopold-Strauss explores what happens when something in your family changes? This year, her grandfather, who always leads the seder, is sick. Everyone else wants to leave him quietly in his room, but when one little girl visits her grandfather, she knows that he wants to participate too and she figures out how to make it happen. Some things are different, but the family is truly together and that is what is important in the long run.
A completely different, yet utterly beautiful version of the Passover story is told in The Longest Night, by Laurel Snyder. This book is written in verse and is told from the eyes of a young slave girl. It follows her through the confusion caused by the plagues and the actual exodus. We are always looking for books that approach things from different perspectives, and this imaginative take on the story from what it might have felt like to be a slave and have to flee your home definitely fits the bill. The other special part of this book comes in the imagery by Catia Chien. Rather than using bright colors, the dark and muted colors truly set the tone.
Most people think of the parting of the Red Sea and they imagine Moses raising his staff and making the water part. That’s what I had understood for years until our Rabbi told the kids the real story a few years ago. According to Midrash, it was not actually Moses who parted the sea, but Nachshon, one of the slaves running away. The story Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim, by Deborah Bodin Cohen, is a great story to bring Nachshon into the picture and to highlight why he was important. Nachshon embodies complete faith in God to get the Jews through the danger ahead. It is doubtful that many of the slaves knew how to swim, but Nachshon was the first to take a complete leap of faith and put his foot in the water. As he did, the waters parted. A great story for children to hear.