Monday, March 26, 2007

recent picture books for Passover

More passover titles here.

Passover! by Roni Schotter. Illustrated by Erin Eitter Kono. Little, Brown (2006 (0-316-93991-9) $12.99

When the first signs of Spring appear, Grandma and Grandpa arrive to celebrate Passover with their family, including toddler Moe and puppy Izzy. But what could be a likeable enough rhyming story about their family seder is sadly marred by a lack of attention to rhythm and scansion: "Our house looks 'Passover perfect--even Grandma says so. Everything is sparkly clean, even wiggly Moe!" "In the kitchen, Mama warms our favorite dish--Matzoh ball soup! Papa fixes gefilte fish." Some of the rhymes work--I like a throwaway line outside of the regular text, "That bone is not your own, Izzy!"--but too much of the text is uncomfortable to read. There's nothing special in the familiar, conventional images of the watercolor illustrations to compensate for the failings of the text, and even the extra page of information at the end is somewhat misleading, describing one set of seder customs as if it applied to all Jews, everywhere. (2-6)

Had Gadya illustrated by Seymour Chwast. Roaring Brook, 2005 (1-59643-033-8) $16.95; 2007 (978-1-59643-298-7) $7.95 pb

Starting with a goat being eaten by a cat and ending with God striking down the Angel of Death, the traditional cumulative song "Had Gadya" is a deliberately curious combination of whimsy and darkness. Both elements are seen in this picture book rendition. Acrylic paintings use chunky patches of color to create busy scenes full of people preparing for Passover; at the top of each spread, the characters of each verse are shown as they appear--first the goat, then the goat and the cat--to make it easy to keep track of the story. (Sometimes the characters glance curiously at each other above, as if puzzled by their odd behavior below.) The Angel of Death is a menacing blue figure; God is portrayed as a bolt of light from clouds. In the end, as the family we've seen in the pictures begins their Passover Seder, we see the father bringing home... the goat.

An afterward by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld discusses possible meanings the song and its darker images, which may help parents interpret it for troubled children. The sheet music, and verses in the original Aramaic are also included. (3-8)

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