September 15, 2011
As summer wanes and fall descends, people of all cultures remember simpler times with harvest festivals, enjoying the rich colors and tastes of autumn celebrations. For the Jewish people, this means the High Holidays are here, bringing apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration, and time spent outdoors in the sukkah (hut), celebrating the harvest festival of Sukkot.
The pages of two books bring these celebrations to life for children of any faith. What's the Buzz? Honey for a Sweet New Year by Allison Ofanansky, with photographs by Eliyahu Alpern, is a vibrant look at the life of bees and how they make honey. And Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast by Rabbi Jamie Korngold, with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry, spins the tale of the author's two children as they gather food for a breakfast in the sukkah one morning.
What's the Buzz? is a photo journal of a grade school trip to an apiary — a bee colony where honey is gathered and packaged. The story is told in the first-person from the point of view of the author's daughter, and, since this is her daughter's class in school, each classmate is mentioned by name. The trip takes place in Israel, so there are Hebrew signs in the background, but the narration is given in child-accessible English.
The children visit the apiary, arriving on a school bus, and are given a tour by a kindly guide named Yigal. As Yigal takes the kids around the colony, the children ask questions, make comments and laugh at jokes, giving the author a chance to personalize the story and give the reader a sense of being there. Ultimately, the narrator purchases a jar of the fruits of the bees' labor from the gift shop, and brings it to her ill friend, and together they share apples dipped in the golden honey to celebrate a sweet new year.
Sadie and her younger brother Ori, the only characters in Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast, have woken up early on Sukkot and set out to have breakfast in the sukkah — the hut that their family has built to commemorate the tents in which the Israelites lived while wandering in the dessert. Not wanting to wake their parents, they gather cereal, milk, bowls, bread, juice, and more, and bring it out to the sukkah. Remembering that it is a mitzvah (commandment or good deed) to invite others to dine in the sukkah, but finding it too early to awaken anyone, Sadie brings in a cartload of stuffed animals, and together with their fuzzy guests, Sadie and Ori dine happily.
While both books are geared toward children, What's the Buzz? takes a more accessible approach to the Jewish fall holidays, making an ideal book for those without a strong Jewish background. Set in Israel (with some Hebrew in the photos) and centered around the Jewish celebration of the new year, What's the Buzz? is infused with Hebrew and Jewish themes without setting a high bar for understanding. The author offers a non-sectarian subject — beekeeping — along with wonderful images of children and nature, and keeps religious themes out of the work until the final pages. It is only when the narrator is having a meal with her mother and father that she calls them "ima and abba" (Hebrew for "mom and dad"), and wishes them a "Shana Tovah" (a sweet and happy new year), in transliterated Hebrew.
For families looking for a story that normalizes traditional Jewish practice, Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast is a hit. The book opens on the first day of Sukkot, and assumes that the reader is familiar with the holiday. Judaism and its customs are presented as the norm throughout the work — with young Ori wearing a kippah (head covering), and challah bread mentioned without further explanation. All told, the book is cute and the illustrations are vivid and colorful, yet there is a cultural barrier for readers without the required knowledge of Judaism and Jewish holidays.
Both books are sure to be enjoyable for children from a visual standpoint, and make great introductions to their respective holiday topics. For a child with some Jewish holiday background, Sadie's Sukkah Breakfast is a fun book about a girl and her brother having a safe, Jewish adventure. And for children of any background, What's the Buzz? is a beautiful photographic look into the life of bees and how they provide sweetness and light for our lives.