Do you read lots of books to your kids before bed? Are you always looking for new titles to add to the collection? And are you interested in instilling some Jewish religious values in your kids?
If so, consider adding one (or all) of these five books to your bedtime routine. Each one teaches the tykes a Jewish value* (even if its not immediately apparent). Lilah Tov!
* These values can all be traced back to the Torah or Jewish scripture. That said, these are human values, too, and each of these books can be understood that way, as well.
1. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
What it’s about: The witch has a broom and a cat and a tall hat and long red braids. On her travels, she meets a dog and a frog and a bird that all ask if they can join her on the broom. The witch happily invites them to hop on. The broom breaks, and then the crew is accosted by a dragon. But the animals band together and save the witch. In gratitude, she builds a souped-up broom with something for everyone.
Why it’s great: The rhymes make for great reading aloud and the pictures are detailed and a little cartoonish, so the kids like them. But mostly, we like this story because the animals all take care of the witch. They repay her generosity by scaring off the dragon and they do it by cooperating.
Why it’s Jewish: The book of Genesis describes Abraham’s hospitality to strangers and defines the Jewish value of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests). In Judaism, hospitality is a mitzvah, and one that is easily understood by little ones. The witch did not know the dog, bird, or frog, but she willingly invited them onto her broom and even went so far as to renovate her broom to make sure they were comfortable! Similarly, we should encourage our kids to welcome friends new and old into their home (assuming we’ve all been through the stranger-danger talk).
2. City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems
What it’s about: City Dog arrives in the country and meets a frog. They become best friends and do things like fetch and croak and splash. As the seasons pass, Country Frog slows down and gets older. He and City Dog start to play slower games, like “remembering.” One winter, Country Frog disappears. City Dog feels blue, but then he meets a Chipmunk and makes a new friend.
Why it’s great: The watercolors are pretty. And the messages (life goes on, and sometimes life is just as good–or even better–than it was before, and it’s okay to be sad and miss friends but also, it’s important to be open to new experiences) are heavy, but important.
Why it’s Jewish: Ecclesiastes! (In particular, Chapter 3, verses 1-8: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time for being born and a time for dying…”) The Book of Ecclesiastes contains some of Judaism’s most philosophical ideas, but the take-away for this story is that rather than shroud death and old age in mystery, it’s important to understand and appreciate friendships, the change of seasons, and the promise of a new spring. (Too heavy for your little one? Then talk about old and new friends and why both are to be cherished.)
3. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
What it’s about: Gerald is a skinny giraffe who can’t dance. He lives in a jungle full of animals that can dance, and they do it well, too. Chimps do cha-chas, baboons dance Scottish reels, lions can tango…you get the idea. Gerald feels bad about himself until he meets a cricket that tells him to listen to the music within. Sure enough, Gerald turns out to be a real Barishni-giraffe.
Why it’s great: Not only is the book super colorful with rhymes that are very satisfying to read out loud, but we also appreciate the message that it’s okay to be a bad dancer (and it’s okay to be different and we should find strength within).
Why it’s Jewish: Music is a central part of almost every Jewish ritual. It’s mentioned in the first book of the Torah and according to Jewish oral tradition (the Mishnah), there were 12 instruments and 12 singers in the holy Temple orchestra! (Did you even know they had one?) Also, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, explained that “each of us has a melody inside of us” and we are meant to spend our days seeking out that melody. Similarly, Gerald has a song inside of himself. This book not only emphasizes the importance of listening to your own melody, but also being confident and loving yourself.
4. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
What it’s about: Blue is a little pick-up truck that makes friends with all of the farm animals he cruises past. Everyone loves Blue except for a much-bigger dump truck that doesn’t have time to be friendly. But when the big truck gets stuck in mud and calls for help, no one hears him (except Blue). Blue tries to help Dump, and Blue gets stuck too. But when Blue calls out, all of the animals hear him and come running. Together, they push and push and both trucks are freed.
Why it’s great: Again, the rhymes are top notch (“Oink quack maaa. Moo cluck peep. Neigh croak baa, beep beep beep!”) and it’s nice that the smaller (more fuel efficient?) truck is the one with the big heart. Also, this is a board book, which means if your kids are anything like mine, they won’t easily tear out or eat the pages.
Why it’s Jewish: I read this one as a riff on Tikkun Olam, or the Jewish concept of repairing the world. Tikkun Olam can be defined in many ways; it could take the form of social action, fighting for justice, or making sure there is harmony and order in our world. By showing his farm friends that he wasn’t offended by Dump’s standoffishness, Blue repaired the world. He got everyone to cooperate, despite the negative attitudes. Repairing the world can start really small, by being friendly to a lonely kid at the playground, or helping someone who’s stuck.
5. Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney
What it’s about: Little llama and his mom go shopping. But the store is crowded and Little llama is bored. Mama’s busy buying groceries and new shoes for Little llama, but all he wants is a treat and to get the heck out of “Shoporama.” Eventually, Little llama throws a tantrum and boxes of noodles, bags of socks, and cheesy puffs hit the floor. Mama is shocked and dismayed. She explains to Little llama that his drama won’t get him anywhere, and he should help mama shop to “make this fun.” They clean up together and then they go get ice cream (after searching for their car in an enormous parking lot).
Why it’s great: Perhaps of all the books on this list, this one is the most relatable (who doesn’t hate shopping in crowds? Who hasn’t lost their car in an enormous parking lot?). But also, it’s great because Mama doesn’t put up with Little llama’s hysterics. She asks him to cool it with the drama, and then calmly explains the concept of patience and cooperation.
Why it’s Jewish: Honor thy mother and father, of course! The book of Exodus commands that Jews honor their parents and we can understand this in a variety of ways. One way is to teach kids respect. This means that even if baby stomps and shouts, she needs to understand that mom (and dad!) are working hard, and just because they cannot cater to baby’s every whim, they still love baby and want her to be happy.