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Engineer Ari and Realistic Kids’ Books

When my husband and I were choosing names for our son, we had a few rules. Key among them was that the name had to be pronounceable wherever we might live in the future (America only, we’re not that adventurous). Hebrew names such as Adin or Michal might be nice, but would be butchered in most parts of the country. So we finally settled on Ari (we figured the popularity of HBO’s Entourage and its character Ari Gold would only help).

But I certainly don’t expect to find tchotchkes like keychains or magnets with his name as we go on family vacations in the future.

So  I was surprised when someone clued us on to the “Engineer Ari” book series. Yes, they are published by a Jewish company (Kar-Ben) but it’s still a nice treat, especially when looking them up on Amazon.

As our Ari grows older, I’m sure he’ll delight in reading the books, which center on an engineer driving the first train in Israel in the late 19th century. While the books are geared at school-age readers, our Ari enjoys listening to the stories already.  What kid doesn’t love a story about trains?

This holiday season, having already had a Rosh Hashanah Ride and ventured on the Sukkah Express, Engineer Ari faces a “Hanukkah Mishap.”   Previous reviewers have noted the bright and vivid depictions of the land of Israel before the present-day state existed. This story, which also shares the history and customs of Hanukkah, is no exception.

But my favorite part is the interaction that Engineer Ari has with Kalil, a local Bedouin he meets along the railway. In stories about Israel for young children, it’s easy to shy away from the demographic realities of the country. The pictures of Engineer Ari and Kalil shaking hands, sharing coffee, and lighting the menorah are important images for our children to see.

Is the interaction realistic? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I don’t think it matters. The way these two characters celebrate each other’s customs is a starting point for the discussion I want to have with my child one day about Israel. I believe that many other parents will agree with me.

Meredith LewisMeredith Lewis is the Director of Operations of MyJewishLearning Inc. She holds an MA in Hebrew and Judaic studies and an MPA in non-profit finance from New York University. She received a BS in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Meredith also has served as youth group advisor for USY and an educational consultant. She lives in Rockland County with her husband, two sons, and their cockapoo. She enjoys watching TV and local travel when she's not making sure Kveller is up and running.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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