Kids' Books for Shavuot and Beyond


A Child's Book of Prayers and Praise
Collected by Reeve Lindbergh.
Illustrated by Christine Davenier, Bob Graham, Anita Jeram, and Elisa Kleven.
Candlewick Press. $21.95.
Ages 4 and up.

This is a keepsake book, and one that both challenges and comforts a child throughout the various stages of his or her growth. Its four sections–"For the Day," "For the Home," "For the Earth," "For the Night"–are each illustrated by a number of artists from different countries. The effect is a beautiful, melodious blending of styles. Lindbergh has included several of her own thoughtful poems, but the vast majority are culled from countless sources, both religious and cultural. Some are eminently familiar, such as the Twenty-third Psalm and Anne Frank's oft-quoted observations. But many are apt to be new, such as Mayan, Tu Fu, Papago and Black Elk writings which resonate with universal human longings. For bedtime, quiet time, discussion time. Make room for this book in your family's heart.

World Folktales for Strong Girls
Collected and told by Jane Yolen.
Illustrated by Susan Guevara.
Silver Whistle/Harcourt. $17.00.
Ages 8-12.

Peopled with princesses and paupers, kings and their sons, dragons and strange creatures of all sorts, this book trumpets the theory that girls can (and should) tackle anything that causes them to withdraw or be afraid. The collection of thirteen tales (the choice of number is perhaps a subtle rejection of superstition) from cultures as disparate as Argentina, Japan and the Ozarks, features girls of every description. Some of them run off, á la Joan of Arc or Mulan of Disney fame, to persevere, conquer and ultimately win their reward which, unfortunately, usually includes the prince of their dreams. One story, "The Pirate Princess," designated as "Poland/Jewish" and attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, has a long publishing history. It first appeared in the Rabbi's Hebrew Sippure Maasiyot originally published in 1881 and most recently in Howard Schwartz's Elijah's Violin & Other Jewish Fairy Tales.

Every bit as magical and clever as its companion stories, it revolves around the very Jewish concept of bashert, or fate, which cannot be thwarted no matter how many obstacles are on the road to finding one's mate. In her end-notes, Jane Yolen confesses that she has taken liberties with most of the stories, adding here and changing there. But the folktales that endure in various cultures almost always take on exotic dimensions. This one is no exception.

A Young Person's Guide to the Religions of the World
By Alan Brown and Andrew Langley.
Millbrook, $9.95.
Ages 6-12.

Likable children are featured in this book, explaining their own religions and customs and concentrating on the similarities as well as the differences inherent in the world's major religions. The authors cover Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Shinto, Taoism, Jain, Baha'i, Rastafarian, Zoroastrian, and New Age faiths. They give young readers an excellent background and understanding of what religion is all about. While the children themselves are depicted in engaging, contemporary paintings, there are photographs and more classic drawings of earlier observances and of customs in other countries. One could quibble about details here and there: The Star of David worn on a chain is not really a part of Jewish religious clothing, although some people choose to wear one as jewelry; separate refrigerators for dairy and meat foods are a rarity rather than the norm in kosher homes; and the caption, "A modern synagogue in the United States" under a drawing of two ancient buildings is an oversight. But this book is a splendid tour of the world's religions and is a welcome addition to both home and school libraries.

A Tale of Solomon and Sheba
Retold by Sheldon Oberman.
Illustrated by Neil Waldman.
Caroline/Boyds Mills. $15.95.
Ages 4-8.

What happens when the wisest man in the world fields a question from the wisest woman in the world? King Solomon learns that wisdom and correct answers aren't always enough to keep the world on its rightful path. That's particularly apparent to him when the Queen of Sheba from Cush, the biblical name for Ethiopia, comes to test and ultimately learn from him.

How can he keep his promise to her when it means the birds of the world will have to give up their beaks? This story has echoes of the other famous Solomonic story about dividing one living infant between two mothers who both claim the child as their own, and thus teaching a very powerful lesson. The author credits Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush's retold tale, "A Palace of Bird Beaks" and includes his own elements of tales from Africa, ancient Israel, Yemen and Europe. He does not get into whether or not the King and the Queen were more than student and teacher, as legend has it.

Waldman's acrylic paintings suit the book well, with one important caveat: While the Queen is gloriously African in her appearance and costuming, this reviewer did not care for Solomon's royal clothing, which looks suspiciously like a modern kippah–head covering–and tallit–prayer shawl. Solomon would have worn royal purple and blue robes and a golden jeweled crown to welcome and dazzle a visiting head of state such as Queen Sheba.

The Army Nurses of World War II
by Betsy Kuhn.
Atheneum. $18.00.
Ages 10 and up.

Off to war they went, the eligible young men drafted to serve their country. And right along with them went 59,000 women to nurse, cheer, and share the often brutal conditions with their male peers. Some went for glory, some for travel or romance; but many simply wanted to help. This book chronicles their story through first-hand interviews, personal reminiscences and numerous official photographs. The author's aunt, June Bossler, and her friend, Alice Weinstein, were army nurses who served as the inspiration for this history. Between 1941 and 1945, nurses served at Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Corregidor, North Africa, Anzio, Normandy and many other famous battle scenes. Nurses also accompanied the troops who liberated the concentration camps. These women's stories are exciting, sobering, and leavened with humor and humanity.

Adapted by Sheryl Prenzlau.
Illustrated by Zely Smekhov.
Pitspopany. $18.95.
Ages 6 and up.

The fourth volume in The Jewish Children's Bible Stories series, this beautiful book presents the main ideas of each weekly Torah portion from The Book of Numbers in accessible language. There is also a section of commentary and a full treatment of the Book of Ruth, a text that is seldom presented to children. Ruth, a Jew by choice, chose to follow her mother-in-law Naomi back to Bethlehem after both women were widowed. The Book of Ruth, traditionally read on Shavuot, reminds us that it took the Jewish people forty years of wandering in the desert to become a nation. Ruth's story also opens our hearts to those whose spiritual journey has led them to Judaism.

by Barbara Diamond Goldin.
Illustrated by Anik McGrory.
Gulliver/Harcourt. $16.00.
Ages 3-8.

On Shavuot, Moses received the Torah which is often described as milk and honey to connote its goodness and sweetness. But how is a poor family with five children to obtain the ingredients for blintzes when it's been a hard year? In this entertaining story, the children devise a plan that their parents attempt to undermine in typical O. Henry fashion. Luckily, the children take the high road and their journey culminates with a heaping platter of delectable blintzes–cheese or fruit-filled crepes typically eaten on Shavuot–for which the recipe is provided. Goldin, an award-winning author, has another hit here. McGrory's watercolors, depicting a small town in the 1920s Catskills, are delightful.