Kathy Bloomfield founded the website forwordsbooks: kids' books that matter in 2009 to highlight and review kids' books that promote Jewish values. Once again, a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, Kathy previews children's books as they are published and searches for classics and those undiscovered gems filled with meaning for today's readers. She writes about them here, at JewishBoston.com, on her website forwordsbooks.com and elsewhere. For more information or for book guidance for your family, please email Kathy at email@example.com.
Kids' Books that Matter: The Whole Megillah - The Book of Esther & the Holiday of Purim
March 3, 2014
Despite my Catholic upbringing which had provided me with a comfortable familiarity with biblical stories from The Creation to Moses, I was surprised to discover that a Megillah was an actual THING not just a word for “a really big, messy situation.” A scroll, like a Torah only smaller, a Megillah contains only one biblical book instead of five. There are five Megillot (plural for Megillah) and each one is read during a different Jewish holiday.
My first encounter with a real Megillah was during the holiday of Purim while my son was enrolled in a Chabad preschool in Southern California. During his time there, I often wondered who was learning more, him or me. However, at Purim time, I got a real education.
First order of business—costumes…in March. Definitely NOT a Halloween costume! This was to be a Purim character costume. So, I proudly sewed a Mordechai costume, applied the appropriate makeup—Persian beard and mustache, and sent him off to school.
Second…Mishloach Manot baskets to give as gifts to teachers, friends, neighbors and others. Filled with cookies, fruit, nuts, candy and other goodies, these are a Purim mitzvah. So, out came Judy Ziedler’s The Gourmet Jewish Cook with its fabulous recipe for Hamantaschen, and I was on my way.
Third…we needed a gragger, a noisemaker, a device that would drown out the name of Haman, the evil villain of the Purim story, when we went to the synagogue to listen to the Megillah reading. Fortunately, dried peas, an empty frozen orange juice can and other craft materials covered that base.
At last, dressed in our costumes (yes, adults dress up too!), carrying our Mishloach Manot baskets for distribution and armed with our graggers, we headed to synagogue to listen to the reading of the Megillat Esther/The book of Esther. During this reading, we listened carefully for the name of Haman, the evil villain. Every time Haman’s name was read aloud, the congregation erupted in boos, feet stomping on the ground and graggers spinning loudly with the most horrible noises. We accomplished our goal of drowning out his name with as much noise as possible, even as we listened to the story of how brave Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, saved the Jewish people from annihilation at the hands of this evil individual. My Catholic self could not believe we were making so much noise in a sacred space, my husband was enjoying Hamantaschen and coffee and my son was having tons of fun! I could not help thinking that the word Megillah, the reading of a Megillah and the story in the Megillah all seemed to amount to the same thing: “a really big, messy situation.”
On the 14th day of Adar II, that starts on the evening of March 15, 2014, Jews everywhere will celebrate the holiday of Purim by listening to someone, usually a cantor, chant the Book of Esther aloud. I hope it is a huge Megillah of a day for you and yours.
Purim is a wonderful holiday for story time reading. Here are a number of delightful books that show the holiday in all its varieties:
Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner. Illustrated by Mike Byrne.
©2013. Kar-Ben Publishing. Ages 4-9.
Nate wants to be an alien for the Hebrew School Purim party. When his friends tell him that boys have to be Superheroes, he worries about being different. When his dads explain that Superheroes are created in different ways, Nate ends up winning the prize for “Most Original Costume.”
Sam and Charlie (and Sam Too!) by Leslie Kimmelman. Illustrated by Stefano Tambellini.
©2012. Albert Whitman & Company. Ages 6-9.
In this collection of five stories for beginning readers, new neighbors move in next door to Sam. Charlie (“Never call me Charlene”) and Sam, Too (Samantha) turn out to be loads of fun and Jewish as well. Each story has a values theme; Story Two, “Sharing,” is all about how friends share the last prune Hamantaschen.
The Queen Who Saved Her People by Tilda Balsley. Illustrated by Ilene Richard.
©2011. Kar-Ben Publishing. Ages 4-10.
Part story and part Purim Schpiel (play) this fun book can be read aloud by one person or parts can be divided among a number of individuals who can use the color coded text to play a variety of Megillah roles.
Sammy Spider’s First Purim by Sylvia A. Rouss. Illustrated By Katherine Janus Kahn.
©2000. Kar-Ben Publishing. Ages 3-8.
Sammy is going to learn about sounds at the same time he learns about the holiday of Purim. While watching Josh make his costume and a gragger and Mrs. Shapiro make Hamantaschen. But what will happen when Sammy gets stapled inside Josh’s gragger?
Cakes and Miracles: A Purim Tale by Barbara Diamond Goldin. Illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
©2010. Two Lions. Ages 5-9.
Hershel, a young, blind boy wants to help his mother make cookies for sale before Purim. After all, he can go to school, gather pears and catch frogs. While she would love his help, his mother does not believe he can assist with something as important as their bakery business. When an angel visits Hershel during the night and shows him exactly what to do, his talents bring him and his mother a lot of attention.
The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.