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Reading With Kids: Tu Bishvat

February 3, 2012

With Tu Bishvat right around the corner, we sat down with two kids books that your families might enjoy reading. The first, Good night, laila tov, a picture book for young children, touches on nature themes, while the second, Rabbi Rocketpower in a Tooty-Fruity Tale for Tu Bishvat, explicitly relates to the holiday.

Good night, laila tov
Good night, laila tov, by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Jui Ishida.

Authored by Laurel Snyder, with illustrations by Jui Ishida, Good night, laila tov ("laila tov" means "good night" in Hebrew) takes little kids and their parents on a family outing. From waking up and packing up the car, through to the different camping destinations, readers are treated to a richly illustrated poem that is both celebratory of nature's beauty and part lullaby. At the beach, in the fields and in the woods, parents plant trees, ensuring future generations will also be able to enjoy the beauty of nature. And at the beach, in the fields and in the woods, "good night, laila tov..."

More so than the words "laila tov," the illustrations are what make this a Jewish story. At home, before and after the trip, Judaica is sprinkled throughout the rooms. A tzedakah box has a prominent spot in the children's room; the home's doormat welcomes visitors with "Shalom;" the daughter wears a gold, Jewish star necklace; and a Hanukkah menorah is in the window of the home, by the front door.

Use this story to start a conversation with young children about the importance of appreciating nature, planting trees and taking responsibility. (The children demonstrate responsibility at the end, by taking care of their parents.) With Tu Bishvat coming up, these are great conversations to be having. Of course, they're important to have year round.

Rabbi Rocketpower in a Tooty-Fruity Tale for Tu Bishvat
Rabbi Rocketpower in a Tooty-Fruity Tale for Tu Bishvat, by Rabbi Susan Abramson, illustrated by Laura Standley.

Rabbi Susan Abramson's Rabbi Rocketpower in a Tooty-Fruity Tale for Tu Bishvat, for readers in "grades K-Katrillion," is a chapter book. The holiday of Tu Bishvat and the story's characters are introduced, simply, with a comic that precedes the first chapter, setting a fun tone for the whole book.

While it's aimed at kids of all ages, the puns are plentiful and younger kids might not pick up on them (while adults, reading to the littler kids, might groan or chuckle frequently). The language is friendly and inviting, and, thanks to the characters of a curious kid and his rabbi mom, Jewish concepts are explained in a straightforward manner that isn't off-putting to those of us who might not have already known the answers.

Part mystery, part adventure, this humorous book leads the characters on a hunt from their home to the synagogue's Tu Bishvat seder to the Garden of Eden and back, all while learning about ways to stopping "hurting" nature. There are also helpful kid-friendly resources at the end, including tips on having your own Tu Bishvat seder, a recipe for "Tu Bish Bark" (chocolate bark with fruit), "15 Tu-rific ways to save the planet," and glossaries.

Rabbi Rocketpower is a fun way to introduce Tu Bishvat to primary and intermediate grade kids, who will likely have many questions after they get through the story. Going to a Tu Bishvat seder? Read this book with your kids first, to help them prepare for the meaning of the celebration. Just don't be surprised if they're disappointed by the lack of virtual field trip at your own synagogue, or wonder why a tiny-voiced Tooty-Fruity can't be found...

Hebrew for "15th of [the month of] Shevat," both a date and the name of a holiday celebrated on that date. A holiday that falls in January or February, it's the New Year for trees. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Hebrew for "righteousness," it usually means "charity" or "righteous giving." In Judaism, it refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just, including giving to those in need. Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.

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