There are many wonderful children’s books that share the joys of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah, which literally means, “head of the year” is celebrated in the on the first and second days of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which takes place in the fall. Because the Jewish calendar is a lunar one, the holiday falls on a different day on the solar calendar that we follow. But on Israeli calendar, it is the same time each year!
Rosh Hashanah is the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, comes ten days later. The time in between is called “the days of awe”, and Jews ask for forgiveness to those they have transgressed.
It is never too early to teach your children about their faith. As a mother of three, a substitute preschool teacher in my synagogue and a Hebrew School teacher, I have read and owned many Jewish holiday books. Children’s books can teach concepts in a way that kids have no idea that they are actually learning!
For example, I can talk to my first grade students about the main idea of the Jewish New Year, or I can read a tale with colorful illustrations and a great storyline that can do the same thing in a way that they think is fun and not boring (trust me-most of the materials I am using to teach are boring.) A good picture book is worth its weight in gold!
Here are some of my favorites from my own personal library. You can click on each title to read more about it.
Happy Birthday, World is a board book for children ages infant through three. It introduces the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah to young children. They might not get exactly what the holiday means, but this book is a terrific introduction. The basic concepts of the holiday are shared:
- We dip apples into honey on Rosh Hashanah for a sweet and happy new year.
- Instead of eating a long braided challah, we eat a round one. Many people also eat ones with raisins in it to make it even sweeter.
- We see family and go to synagogue to pray.
- We go to synagogue to hear the shofar blow and to pray.
Rosh Hashanah Books for Children Ages 3-7
For older preschoolers and children in kindergarten through first grade, there are Rosh Hashanah books that tell about the traditions of the holiday within the parameters of a story. They are learning valuable lessons in a way they can understand and relate to, as the main characters ask the same questions they do!
The Sammy Spider series of Jewish holiday books by Sylvia Rouss is beloved by children, parents and teachers. Not only does it teach children about the holiday being spotlighted, it also teaches a learning concept. In Sammy Spider’s First Rosh Hashanah, children learn about size-big, middle and small. As he goes through the story and his mother gently reminds him how “spiders spin webs”, readers watch the Shapiro family get ready for this day and how they celebrate. A must have for any child’s Jewish library!
Tashlich is a Rosh Hashanah tradition. Jewish people go to a river or other moving body of water and throw crumbs into it, symbolizing getting rid of the bad things that happened the previous year and starting fresh. It is like a tabula rosa. You are also expected to apologize to each other for any transgressions you may have done on purpose or by accident. In New Year on the Pier, Izzy and his family participate in this tradition, but Izzy is having a hard time letting go of something.
In Even Higher, Caldecott winning author and illustrator Eric Kimmel shares a tale of a rabbi who leaves his village to do a mitzvah (good deed) without telling anyone. A skeptical villager follows the rabbi to see what miracle the villagers believe he is doing. What the villager sees changes how he views the world.
Rosh Hashanah Books for Older Children
For an older audience, these books will both teach children about the traditions of Rosh Hashanah as well as entertain them. They are mature enough to understand the deeper meaning of the holiday, that we as Jews get to start a fresh, new year. It is more than just celebrating the birthday of the world; we are celebrating the ability to begin again.
Once again Eric Kimmel tells stories about the Jewish High Holy Days, this book includes both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There are chapters explaining what the holidays are about, followed by classic folk tales that are more mature than the books aimed at preschool aged children. These stories focus on the meaning of the holidays-charity, prayer and repentance. My personal favorite from this collection of stories is The Samovar. You never know who the stranger is who is asking for a bit of kindness. Children learn what happens when you give, even when you don’t have all that much yourself.
In this story that touches upon the Holocaust, Eli wonders why the Jewish New Year, which is supposed to be happy, is surrounded in sadness. His grandmother always cries during a holiday that should bring smiles. But the reason for the tears is never discussed. It isn’t until Eli travels to Eastern Europe to find out about his lost roots that he understands.