Stained glass win­dow in a syn­a­gogue in Enschede, Netherlands

As we pre­pare to cel­e­brate the High Hol­i­days, to hear the sho­far blasts and gath­er with fam­i­ly and friends for fes­tive meals and wish each oth­er a sweet new year, I’m excit­ed in a way I’ve nev­er been before. I’m now a grand­moth­er – an abueli­ta – of two love­ly girls, a tod­dler, and a sev­en-month-old baby. I hope to pass on to them as much as I can of my unique Jew­ish her­itage. Mine is a many-lay­ered dias­poric her­itage, Ashke­nazi and Sephardic, with roots in Cuba, Poland, Rus­sia, Turkey, and Spain. With­in that her­itage, I’ve sought out the sto­ries of girls who cher­ish Jew­ish tra­di­tions while embrac­ing their free­dom. Now when I read Jew­ish children’s books, I look for sto­ries that delve into less­er-known Jew­ish iden­ti­ties, sto­ries I’ll want to read to my granddaughters.

I’m a cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gist by train­ing and I start­ed writ­ing children’s books on the eve of turn­ing six­ty, just before becom­ing an abueli­ta. Some­how I knew my grand­daugh­ters were on the way. I live sur­round­ed by sou­venirs from my trav­els, in a house filled with Cuban art, Mex­i­can tex­tiles, Span­ish pot­tery, and Turk­ish rugs. I find it a delight to delve into the visu­al world of pic­ture books, where images and words bliss­ful­ly come together.

Below are High Hol­i­day pic­ture books that chil­dren from ages three and up can enjoy, along with the adults read­ing the books. I want­ed to see how new begin­nings could be explored with an aware­ness of diverse cul­tures and set­tings. I looked for books that could appeal to kids being brought up reli­gious, with a mix of tra­di­tions, or sec­u­lar. I love find­ing Jew­ish chil­dren in sto­ries who are excit­ed about shar­ing the joy of the High Hol­i­days with those who fol­low dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions. Final­ly, I was drawn to sto­ries that give voice to the range of emo­tions we feel on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kip­pur, and Sukkot, expe­ri­enc­ing every­thing from vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to exuberance.

Hap­py Roo Year: It’s Rosh Hashanah! by Jes­si­ca Hick­man, illus­trat­ed by Elissambura

This rhyming board book offers young chil­dren a charm­ing intro­duc­tion to Rosh Hashanah, as seen from the per­spec­tive of kan­ga­roos in the Aus­tralian out­back. In a twist on stereo­typ­i­cal gen­der roles, it’s Dad Kan­ga­roo who pre­pares the food, a feast that includes brisket and ends with hon­ey cake. The art cap­tures the afternoon’s pur­ple light shin­ing with hope.

Is It Rosh Hashanah Yet? by Chris Barash, illus­trat­ed by Alessan­dra Psacharopulo 

Joy emanates from this book – part of a series on Jew­ish hol­i­days – through the bucol­ic art that evokes autumn: the har­vest, apple pick­ing, and a time when fam­i­ly and friends gath­er. You feel the sweet­ness of change in the air and the wel­come of a new beginning.

A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Bre­skin Zal­ben, illus­trat­ed by Mehrod­kht Amini 

In this sto­ry set in the neigh­bor­hood of Flat­bush in Brook­lyn, two boys, Moses Feld­man (Moe) and Moham­mad Has­san (Mo) meet amid the apri­cots, figs, dates, and nuts in the aisles of Sahadi’s while their moth­ers shop. It is a rare year when Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan coin­cide and the friend­ship of Moe and Mo brings their two fam­i­lies togeth­er to wish each oth­er Shalom” and Salaam.” The book fit­ting­ly ends with recipes for rugelach and date cook­ies and the vibrant col­lage art leaps off the page and reveals how more than a tree can grow in Brooklyn.

Two New Years by Richard Ho, illus­trat­ed by Lynn Scurfield

In a strik­ing fusion of col­ors, sym­bols, and tra­di­tions, this book tells the sto­ry of a child whose moth­er is Jew­ish and father is Chi­nese and whose fam­i­ly cel­e­brates Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. Offer­ing anthro­po­log­i­cal insight through a com­par­a­tive lens that a child can under­stand, it’s reveal­ing to see Rosh Hashanah through the eyes of a dif­fer­ent tra­di­tion. This sto­ry opens the heart to all the ways you can be Jew­ish when love brings peo­ple together.

Talia and the Very Yum Kip­pur by Lin­da Elovitz Mar­shall, illus­trat­ed by Francesca Assirelli 

This inter­gen­er­a­tional sto­ry beau­ti­ful­ly focus­es on Talia and her Grand­ma as they pre­pare a break fast for the rest of the fam­i­ly who are pray­ing at the syn­a­gogue. Talia hears yum” Kip­pur, but the kugel they made can’t be eat­en yet; she hears it’s a fast” day, but the leaves fall from the trees so slow­ly. It’s all very puz­zling until Grand­ma explains to Talia that it’s a time when you ask for for­give­ness. Talia remem­bers a lie she told and her lov­ing Grand­ma quick­ly for­gives her with a hug. The humor and ten­der­ness of this book is per­fect­ly matched with art that feels mag­i­cal, cap­tur­ing the fairy-tale flow of time as Talia waits for the fast to end.

Three Jumps to Sor­ry: A Yom Kip­pur Sto­ry by Amy Novit, illus­trat­ed by Ana Zurita 

A prac­ti­cal and active vision of how to say you’re sor­ry is offered here. Hannah’s moth­er wise­ly breaks down an apol­o­gy into three parts and three jumps, teach­ing young ones what it tru­ly means to say you’re sor­ry, which is to gain the empa­thy to under­stand the hurt you caused anoth­er per­son. Han­nah learns to have empa­thy and wins our hearts. The art in this book is so endear­ing­ly cute that it makes con­tri­tion and for­give­ness seem attain­able by all.

Sky-High Sukkah by Rachel Orn­stein Pack­er, illus­trat­ed by Deb­o­rah Zemke 

This urban Sukkot tale is invit­ing to a read­er like me who grew up in New York apart­ment build­ings with­out a back­yard. I remem­ber how my moth­er fash­ioned a tent-sukkah for my broth­er and me in our bed­room out of a sheet and two brooms. It was the best sukkah. In Sky-High Sukkah, Leah shares her sad­ness that she can’t have a sukkah with Al, who owns a fruit mar­ket on her street. He has nev­er heard of a sukkah and she has to explain what it is. Soon she teams up with her friend, Ari, whose rooftop is avail­able, but new chal­lenges arise that seem insur­mount­able. While the neigh­bors all join in to help, it is Al who comes to the res­cue to make their sukkah tru­ly mag­i­cal, show­ing how by shar­ing Jew­ish tra­di­tions we can wel­come more peo­ple into our tent and deep­en the joy. The palette of soft gray and fad­ed vio­let con­trasts with the bright col­ors of the fruit and brings out the beau­ty of the city.

Shang­hai Sukkah by Hei­di Smith Hyde, illus­trat­ed by Jing Jing Tsong 

I am fas­ci­nat­ed by the sto­ry of Euro­pean Jew­ish immi­gra­tion to Shang­hai on the eve of WWII, per­haps because it is rem­i­nis­cent of the migra­tion of my fam­i­ly to Cuba, where they found refuge and respect for their cul­tur­al tra­di­tions. In Shang­hai Sukkah, Mar­cus miss­es Berlin, but his friend­ship with Liang cheers him. He learns of the Moon Fes­ti­val, which is a har­vest hol­i­day like Sukkot. Again, the rooftop sukkah isn’t quite what Mar­cus dreams, until Liang sur­pris­es him with a gift of lanterns that light it up. Here too, we are giv­en an uplift­ing vision of friend­ship across cul­tur­al bor­ders and the mes­sage that as Jews we are not alone, that oth­ers care about us in times of antisemitism.

The Very Best Sukkah: A Sto­ry from Ugan­da by Shoshana Nam­bi, illus­trat­ed by Moran Yogev 

This prize-win­ning sto­ry about the Ugan­dan Abayu­daya community’s annu­al sukkah con­test high­lights a lit­tle-known Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty cel­e­brat­ing Sukkot. After intense­ly com­pet­ing with one anoth­er to see who can make the best sukkah, Shoshi comes to real­ize that when the entire vil­lage works togeth­er, there is good rea­son to sing Hinei Ma Tov — See How Good It is.” Moran Yogev’s linoleum prints are rich­ly pat­terned and the deep blue, green, and yel­low hues on which the words sit give the book a folk­loric qual­i­ty that is utter­ly gorgeous.

While not pre­cise­ly sto­ries about the High Hol­i­days, I want to end by rec­om­mend­ing three books that offer Sephardic and Mizrahi per­spec­tives on the quest for new begin­nings while hold­ing on to mem­o­ries of lost homes. 

The Key from Spain: Flo­ry Jago­da and Her Music by Deb­bie Levy, illus­trat­ed by Son­ja Wimmer 

I can find no bet­ter inspi­ra­tion to learn a few Sephardic songs with our young ones to cel­e­brate the new year than the mov­ing sto­ry of Flo­ry Jago­da, a Sephardic Jew born in Bosnia.

Osnat and Her Dove: The True Sto­ry of the World’s First Female Rab­bi by Sigal Samuel, illus­trat­ed by Vali Mintzi

At a time of renew­al, let us teach our chil­dren about the world’s first female rab­bi, born in Kur­dis­tan. She is an impor­tant reminder that girls long ago were also resilient and played a major role in pass­ing on our tra­di­tions to future generations.

Shoham’s Ban­gle by Sarah Sas­soon, illus­trat­ed by Noa Kelner

Flee­ing Iraq, her birth land, is heart­break­ing for Shoham. The fam­i­ly must leave every­thing behind, includ­ing the gold­en ban­gles that she and her Nana always wore. But Shoham will dis­cov­er that the ban­gles trav­el to Israel in the pitas that her Nana baked for the jour­ney. In the promised land, she will begin anew, remem­ber­ing the place she first called home.

Ruth Behar, the Pura Bel­pré Award-win­ning author of Lucky Bro­ken Girl and Let­ters from Cuba, was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in New York, and has also lived in Spain and Mex­i­co. Her work also includes poet­ry, mem­oir, and the acclaimed trav­el books An Island Called Home and Trav­el­ing Heavy. She was the first Lati­na to win a MacArthur Genius” Grant, and oth­er hon­ors include a John Simon Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship and being named a Great Immi­grant” by the Carnegie Cor­po­ra­tion. An anthro­pol­o­gy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, she lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.