Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is a major Jewish holiday celebrated in the spring. Its history goes back thousands of years; modern Jews tend to combine tradition and innovative symbolism in their celebrations today. It is a holiday celebrated at home rather than in the synagogue, and it emphasizes family and learning. Before I share my recommendations of Passover books for children, let me share a few things to acquaint you with the holiday.
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- Passover commemorates the biblical Exodus from Egypt, and is the oldest Jewish holiday.
- The dates of Passover change each year on the Western calendar, falling in March or April. That’s because Passover starts on the 15th of Nisan on the Jewish calendar, which is lunar instead of solar. Some Jewish communities celebrate the holiday for 7 days, others for 8 days.
- The first (and sometimes second) night of Passover is celebrated in the home with a seder, a festive meal with symbolic foods and traditional recitations. The haggadah is the “manual” containing instructions and readings to be used during the seder.
- The seder is designed to involve kids and help them learn. The youngest child gets to ask The Four Questions, and all the children open the door for the prophet Elijah, and search for the afikomen (the hidden matzah). Traditional Passover songs also keep kids engaged.
- During Passover, Jews traditionally avoid eating chametz (wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt which has leavened or risen), replacing it with the hard flatbread matzah. Matzah symbolizes the flight from Egypt, when the escaping Hebrew slaves had no time to let their bread dough rise.
Children’s picture books about Passover have a wealth of themes to draw upon. Some tell of the biblical Exodus while others focus on its commemoration through the seder. Some books highlight themes of the holiday such as freedom or gratitude. There are books singling out a single Passover food or song. Here is a sampling of the wide variety of Passover books available for children. Some of these books are recently published; others may be out of print but are well worth checking out of the library or buying used.
Passover Books for Children
Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim by Deborah Bodin Cohen – Expanding on a mention of Nachshon in the Bible, this original story uses the backdrop of the Exodus to depict a young man’s growth from fear to freedom. Scratchy, stylized art brings the Egyptian setting to life. (Picture book, Grades 1-5)
Miriam’s Cup by Fran Manushkin – Glowing paintings and detailed text relate the biblical story of Miriam, sister of Moses, and the important role she played in freeing the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. (Picture book, Grades 1-5)
The Matzah That Papa Brought Home by Fran Manushkin – In “House That Jack Built” style, this cumulative story depicts the major elements of a seder from the Four Questions to opening the door for Elijah. Charmingly old-fashioned paintings show a lively family having a great time together. A thorough author’s note explains Passover terms and practices. (Picture book, preschool-Grade 3)
Passover: Celebrating Now, Remembering Then by Harriet Ziefert – Jewel-like paintings on fold-out flaps contrast current seder rituals with the history that inspired them. The order of events in this book may not strictly match those in your haggadah and the explanations are brief, but the book provides a lovely meditation on Passover symbols. (Picture book, Preschool-Grade 5)
Max Makes a Cake by Michelle Edwards – Max wants to make a birthday cake for Mama, but it’s Passover so he must use special cake mix. When Daddy gets too busy with baby Trudy to help, Max invents a no-cook cake made of matzah layered with cream cheese and jam. This warm family story celebrates Max’s independence while subtly educating readers about the holiday. A recipe and a brief historical note are included. (Picture book, Preschool-Grade 2)
A Sweet Passover by Leslea Newman – Miriam spends the eight days of Passover eating matzah with jelly, with tuna salad, with cream cheese… but by the last day she’s sick of it. She turns down Grandpa’s delicious matzah brei (fried matzah) until her family explains the many historical and symbolic beauties of the food. An author’s note, glossary, and recipe for matzah brei complete the book. (Picture book, Kindergarten-Grade 3)
Afikomen Mambo by Rabbi Joe Black – Rabbi Black’s original song about searching for the afikomen (the hidden matzah) during the seder has been brightly, cheerfully illustrated. The book comes with a CD. (Picture book and CD, Preschool-Grade 1)
More Than Enough by April Halprin Wayland – “Dayenu” is a joyful traditional Passover song of gratitude that means “it would have been enough.” In this brief rhyming meditation on thankfulness, a family takes time to count their blessings while preparing for Passover and celebrating with family. An author’s note and glossary follow, with the sheet music for Dayenu on the endpaper. (Picture book, Preschool-Grade 2)
The Secret Seder by Doreen Rappaport – During World War II, it was not safe for Jews to gather for holidays, but sometimes they did so anyway. Jacques and his father join other Jewish men for a seder in a mountain hideout to feel “free inside ourselves, for by celebrating Pesach (Passover), we defy orders not to practice our religion.” Dark but gentle paintings realistically bring the era to life. An author’s note, glossary, and bibliography are included. (Picture book, Grades 2-5)
The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber – In post-Civil war Virginia, a Jewish Yankee soldier is reluctantly welcomed for Passover by a Confederate Jewish family. The family interprets the Exodus story to mean “no one needs to be subject to a cruel ruler” while their guest points out that Passover is about “how no man wants to be a slave.” Their differing views fit into the ongoing Jewish tradition of discussion and reinterpretation. Based on a true story, with history and photos included at the back. (Picture book, Grades 2-5)
Celebrate Passover: with Matzah, Maror, and Memories by Deborah Heiligman – Beautifully illustrated with photographs from around the world, this is a solid basic explanation Passover’s history and customs. Extensive back matter provides additional facts, a recipe for Passover Toffee, a bibliography, a glossary, and an essay by a rabbi. (Nonfiction picture book, Kindergarten-Grade 3)
Sammy Spider’s First Haggadah by Sylvia A. Rouss – The haggadah is a sort of instruction manual that gives instructions and readings for completing the seder. This child-friendly haggadah streamlines the ceremony, introduces many musical elements, and keeps kids engaged with bright cut-paper artwork. The character Sammy from the Sammy Spider series of Jewish picture books appears throughout as a friendly guide. (Nonfiction picture book, Preschool-Grade 1)
This post is part of the Passover for Kids Blog Hop from Multicultural Kid Blogs. Visit the co-hosts below for more about how to celebrate this special holiday with kids:
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