Summer reading list

Summer reading list

Amid the summer heat, here are some local Jewish educators’ picks for great children’s books

 

Barb Raznick, Director of Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library

Recommended books:  “Room Enough for Daisy” by Debby Waldman and Rita Feutl — inspired by a Yiddish folktale, a young girl’s clever mom helps her realize that “less is more” and to choose what is most important.

Also, “Lights Out Shabbat” by Sarene Shulimson — a family learns to really appreciate Shabbat when even the electricity takes a day of rest.

Why do you recommend them? For those who like picture books, there are numerous new Jewish books beyond those that are sent to the participants of the PJ Library. Some of my favorites impart important lessons for children. 

Target age:  Can be read to the very youngest and read by themselves by 7- and 8-year-olds

A favorite book from childhood:  “All-Of-A-Kind Family” by Sydney Taylor, first published in 1951 and still read by kids today.


Leslie Wolf, Director of Deutsch Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel

Recommended book: “God’s Paintbrush” by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso  

Why do you recommend it? 

I love the book because it answers children’s questions about God and open a dialogue with parents about God.  The pictures are bright and colorful and very child friendly.  

Target age: For preschool  to early elementary

A favorite book from childhood: “The Little Engine that Could” by Watty Piper (illustrated by George and Doris Hauman).  My grandmother used to read it to me all the time when I would sleep over at their house.  I love the way the little engine just would not quit.


Amanda Packman, 4th grade teacher at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School

Recommended book: “The Castle in the Attic” by Elizabeth Winthrop

What is it about: The book centers around a young boy who is given a castle and knight figurine by his nanny who is moving away. When he picks up the knight figurine, it comes to life in his hand and leads him on a fantastic adventure.

Why do you recommend it? The book is not only exciting fantasy, but has important messages about growing up and finding your inner strength.

Estimated target reading age: 9-12

A favorite book from childhood: “Charlotte's Web” by E. B. White


Dodi Smason, Junior Congregation leader at Nusach Hari Bnai Zion

Recommended book: “Something From Nothing” by Phoebe Gilman

What it’s about: Joseph’s grandfather, a tailor, made him a baby blanket, which he uses to make a jacket, a vest, a tie and then a button. When you think the blanket is down to its final shreds of recycling, Joseph uses his childhood treasure to create a story.

Why do you recommend it? Gilman teaches a great lesson of “living to our fullest potential.” While wearing out all of these items created from the blanket, Joseph gained much more than clothes — he received love, a relationship with his grandfather and a great story. Children learn the important lesson of appreciating life for each and every fiber.

Target reading age: 5-11

A favorite book from childhood: “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson


Cheryl Whatley, Director of Early Childhood  at Congregation B’nai Amoona

Recommended book:  “The Hardest Word” by Jacqueline Jules (illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn)

What it’s about:  A clumsy but good-hearted bird of folklore accidentally destroys a vegetable garden, so he flies to Mount Sinai to ask God for advice.

Why do you recommend it?  The High Holy Days will be ushered in Aug. 19 as we enter the Hebrew month of Elul, and this book gives parents and teachers a chance to discuss a central theme of the holidays. It is so easy to tell children to “Say you’re sorry!” when they act inappropriately toward a sibling or friend. Much harder to share is the idea of feeling regret and really wanting to change. 

Target age:  4+

A favorite book from childhood:  “One Morning in Maine” by Robert McCloskey. “The loss of a feather, the loss of a tooth both are segues to growing and changing.”


Shannon Rohlman, curriculum coordinator for grades K-5 at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School

Recommended book: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” by Kate DiCamillo

What is it about: Edward Tulane, a vain china rabbit who is loved by his owner but feels no love in return, becomes lost. He encounters a series of unfortunate people, each one more fascinating that the next and his heart begins to understand the meaning of love. 

Why do you recommend it? DiCamillo uses magnificent language to evoke intense emotions and remind the reader of the gratitude we should feel towards others.

Target reading age: 10 to adult

A favorite book from childhood: “Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros” by Shel Silverstein


Anne Brafa-Mazur, Early Childhood Librarian, Congregation B’nai Amoona

Recommended book: “A Sick Day for Amos McGee” by Philip Stead

What it’s about: Amos McGee is an elderly man who works at the zoo. Each day he visits his animal friends and enjoys a special activity with each one.  When Amos get sick and stays home from work his friends decide to visit him. Each animal helps Amos feel better in its own special way. It is a story about friendship and compassion. 

Why do you recommend it? I especially like to find good secular books that exemplify our Jewish values. Among the Jewish values I see in the story are chesed (kindness), ahavat habriyot (love for all creatures) and bikkur cholim (visiting the sick).

Target age: 2+

A favorite book from childhood: As a preschooler, I loved “The Poky Little Puppy” by Janette Sebring Lowrey (illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren).


Lizzie Berkowitz, 3rd grade teacher at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School

Recommended book: “The Tale of Despereaux” by Kate DiCamillo

What is it about: This book is about an incredibly brave mouse and his journey to sort through the darkness of the world. 

Why do you recommend it? Despereaux is inspiring, and every time I read it I remember to fill my heart with light too!

Target reading age: 8-10

A favorite book from childhood: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney


Racheli Staum, pre-K and third grade teacher at Epstein Hebrew Academy

Recommended book: “The Happiness Box” by Bracha Goetz

What it’s about: A boy who is never happy and constantly complains receives a “gift” from his father: the huge box that came with the family’s new washing machine, which dad has dubbed the “Happiness Box.” He includes instructions that while playing in the box the boy can only have positive thoughts. In the box, the boy forces himself to only think happy thoughts. As time goes on, he comes to rely upon the box and his negative outlook becomes a positive one. 

Why do you recommend it? It teaches an important lesson about our ability to choose our attitude and be in charge of our emotions and feelings. Presented in a fun, rhyming, easy-to-read format, the book makes this important concept accessible to kids (and is a great reminder to the adults reading to them).

Target age: 4-8

A favorite book from childhood: “The Story of Mimi and Simi” by Yaffa Ganz.


Barbara Hoffman, Judaic Specialist, Storyteller, Librarian, Shirlee Green Preschool at Shaare Emeth

Recommended book: “Gathering Sparks” by Howard Schwartz (illustrated by Kristina Swarner)

What it’s about: The book is about tikkun olam — repairing the world.  In the story a grandfather explains to his granddaughter that when the world was created, vessels of light were shattered scattering sparks of light everywhere.  Sparks may be gathered when a good deed — a mitzvah — is done and when enough are gathered the vessels will be whole and the world will become a peaceful place.  

Why do you recommend it? I love this story for young children as it is a simple explanation of tikkun olam and gives them specific examples of mitzvot that they can do to “gather the sparks.” This book reminds me of going out on the back porch on a warm summer night with my dad and talking about anything  and everything.  

Target age: I would recommend this book for ages 3-6. 

A favorite book from childhood: “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie


Jody Rubin, Co-Director, JCC Early Childhood Center

Recommended book: “Press Here” by Henre Tullet

What it’s about:  An interactive book that includes reader and child, encouraging them to follow the directions within the book and embark upon a delightful journey. 

Why do you recommend it? Fun for the reader and the child. Encourages listening skills, literacy, following directions and fun, silly interactions with the book. 

Target age: 18 months to preschool age 

A favorite book from your childhood?  I always loved anything by Shel Silverstein, but especially “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”


Suzanne Sloane, Kindergarten teacher at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School

Recommended book: “Whistle for Willie” by Ezra Jack Keats. 

What is it about: It is the story of Peter who wants to learn to whistle because it would be the perfect way to call his dog Willile. Peter tries so hard to whistle that his cheeks hurt, but he doesn't give up.  

Why do you recommend it? I like this book because Keats creates a world in which effort yields results.  

Estimated target range:  Kindergarten and first grade.  

A favorite book from childhood: “Little Women.”


Chanala Rubenfeld, Chabad of Chesterfield

Recommended book:  “Labels for Laibel” by Dina Rosenfeld (illustrated by Norman Nodel)

What it’s about:  Two brothers learn the valuable lesson of sharing. 

Why do you recommend it? It teaches a great and important lesson of sharing in a clever, rhyming story, making it easy

for young children to relate. 

The beautiful, bright and colorful illustrations make the book come alive.

Target age:  2-7

A favorite book from childhood:  “The Great Mitzvah Fair” by Michoel Muchnik. From the long octagon shape of the spiral bound book to the very detailed and intricate images, this is a childhood book that always stands out in my mind as one of my favorites. The story encouraged my imagination to go wild, all while learning valuable lessons in Judaism. I now enjoy reading the worn pages of this book to my four boys. 

More From Chana Rubenfeld, Chabad of Chesterfield

Recommended book: “Messes of Dresses”

Author: Tova Leff

What it's about: A story that teaches the importance to be happy with what you have and that you don't always need what someone else has in order to be happy.

Why do you recommend it? In today's society there is much focus on buying the latest "things" that trickles down even to our children. I think it is an important lesson to teach children, when they are young, that who you are as a person is much more important than the things you have or own. You don't need to have the latest iPod or Xbox in order to be happy. Rather, happiness comes from within yourself. 

Target reading age: 2-7 

Recommended book: Whatever the Weather

Author: Shainy Peysin

What it's about: This is a beautifully illustrated book that goes through all the different types of weather in a rhyming manner and demonstrates how all types of weather including rain and wind benefit the world. 

Why do you recommend it? This is a great book that explores all the different types of weather and increases a child's appreciation for everything that happens in our world.

Target reading age: 2-7