By Sheryl Pockrose

With all the devices and electronics available, it can be a challenge to get children interested in traditional books on paper. A bedtime story or reading together as a family provides an experience that can’t be replaced by technology, so it is encouraging that books are still being published for children of all ages. Here are three recent publications.

Dreaming of Hanukkah: Counting down to the Festival of Lights, by Amy Shoenthal

This is what we refer to in the library world as a “board book,” a book printed on thick cardboard pages, to stand up to being tossed around by toddlers after looking at the brightly colored illustrations and simple text. This one combines learning to count to ten with the traditions of Hanukkah. There are ten pieces of gelt, and eight festive nights. Five smiling children, pictured with varied ethnicities, spin four dreidels. Three holiday songs celebrate the one festival of lights. On the last pages, the illustrations are reproduced without the text, so it can also be used as a little memory game to remember what the items are.

Bubbie & Rivka’s Best-Ever Challah (So Far!), by Sarah Lynne Reul

This story for slightly older children inserts a good bit of humor into the tradition of baking challah. Old family photos show Bubbie when she was young, watching her own mother prepare and serve an elaborate shabbat meal. But Bubbie is a modern grandmother who has an office job, and as she says of herself, knows “bupkis about baking.” So when Rivka wants to learn how to bake challah from scratch, it is an adventure for both generations. Their first effort comes out a little too much like matzo rather than a fluffy bread, though the family tries to be supportive, remarking that it is their best challah “so far.” After reviewing what their mistake might have been, Bubbie and Rivka decide that the room where they left the bread to rise wasn’t warm enough. The second time around, they warm up the oven and then turn it off, and let the dough rise there. Alas, this time their mistake is going outside to have a snowball fight while the bread bakes, resulting in some very burnt edges.

The following week, Bubbie and Rivka are better prepared with an oven thermometer and a timer. Rather than go outside, they play some card games at the kitchen table so they will be sure not to miss hearing the timer going off. This time around, the only challenge is managing not to eat it immediately, because their perfect challah is for dinner later that day. The last page of the book is a detailed recipe for baking challah.

Give Thanks, Notice the Good Stuff, by Naomi Shulman

The vocabulary of this book is at about a fifth or sixth grade level, and it explores the idea of gratitude while also teaching about the unique Jewish customs and perspectives on that topic. It suggests fun or thoughtful activities to do throughout the day to create more awareness of gratitude, and most of these could be done by people of any age as a way for the whole family to do some activities together. The book starts with a saying from the Pirkei Avot, that the those who are rich are those who are happy with what they have. The book introduces children to a traditional prayer to say each day when waking up, beginning with the words “modeh ani,” I am grateful. This relates to the Jewish value of “hakarat hatov,” noticing the good. The activities suggested include giving tzedakah, and having a yard sale with friends and family to sell things no longer needed and then giving the money to charity. There is a lesson on how to say “thank you” in seven spoken languages as well as American Sign Language.

Most of the activities are not based on ideas of a specific religion and would work well in a classroom setting or with friends. There are creative arts and crafts ideas such as making chalk drawings on the sidewalk with upbeat messages, drawing a picture of a gift you received and including that with a thank you note, and creating a happiness wall by filling out a sticky note every day about something to be thankful for. Another idea is to create a gratitude journal about happy events, and then have that available as a reminder on days when things are not going so well.

Other suggestions relate to showing appreciation for family life by helping out with chores, taking care of pets, and saying a blessing at meals and then going around the table to talk about recent occasions for gratitude. Getting out in nature is encouraged, with suggestions to plant seeds and then appreciating how they grow, noticing the animals and insects and what they do, and taking a deep breath and noticing the fresh air. At bedtime, remembering the good events of the day and looking forward to more pleasant times the next day can lead to a peaceful night’s sleep.

All three of these books are fairly short and have cute illustrations that should appeal to young children and their parents. Because they don’t rely on popular cartoon or television characters to tell their stories, they have a timeless quality that will never be out of date.