I write a lot about contemporary Jewish children’s books. It’s a topic I care a lot about as a parent, a teacher and an author. I think the quality of these books has, overall, increased enormously since I was a child. There was some real, shall we say, dreck when I was a kid. There still is, of course, but the lousy books comprise increasingly smaller percentage of the genre.
This past week I had the chance to revisit two favorite books from my own childhood. I’m so relieved that they have not only stood the test of time, but they are both even better than I remember them. I just finished reading All of a Kind Family to my daughters, the oldest of whom is named Ella, just like the oldest daughter in the story. They loved every moment they spent with these wonderfully drawn characters. And they almost exploded with delight when Charlie was reunited with the library lady. These books hold a special place in my heart, because I corresponded with Sydney Taylor for several years as a child, and I think I would have died just a little if the first one hadn’t been well received.
I also read There’s a Carp in the Bathtub to my kindergarten class. While the story does make one feel just a tiny bit guilty about eating fish, it’s a beautifully told story that vividly captures a time in American Jewish history that is nearly lost to our kids. It’s also terrifically suspenseful. I actually couldn’t remember what happened to the fish and Barbara Cohen left me guessing all over again until the final pages.
So, if you are still on the hunt for afikomen gifts, these two books, which are both at least nominally about Passover, are my top picks. If they are out of stock (I can only pray that neither is out-of-print) grab a copy of Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco for another great, but slightly newer, Passover classic.