Holiday stories teach respect, tolerance


December 12, 1992|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Grown-ups, who have forgotten lots of things about growing up, rush headlong into the holidays without stopping to think about how intense this time of year is for kids.

The traditions and taboos can be confusing, especially when the family next door celebrates Christmas while your family celebrates Hanukkah while your best friend at school celebrates Kwanza.

Learning about other folks' rituals and beliefs makes them less scary. It can also foster respect -- a concept as outmoded as an eight-track tape. Kids are naturally curious, and they can help us celebrate our differences. A lot of grown-ups have forgotten how.

* The best holiday book of the year, hands down, is "Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas" by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $13.95, ages 5 and up).

Elijah Pierce (1892-1984) was a masterful carver who filled his barber shop in Columbus, Ohio, with hundreds of his colorful wooden creations. They have been displayed in museums and galleries around the world, and they grace mantles and end tables in the homes of Pierce's many friends.

This is the story of one such friend. Michael meets Elijah when his fourth-grade class visits the barber shop. Soon he is stopping by every Monday after Hebrew school. The 84-year-old black man tells the 9-year-old Jewish boy the stories behind his carvings: stories of slavery and escape, stories of the Bible and Jesus.

This particular year, the first night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve fall on the same day. As Michael leaves the shop that evening, Elijah gives him a foot-tall angel as a Christmas present.

Afraid his parents, and God, will

be angry at him for bringing a graven image into a Jewish home, Michael hides the guardian angel in his room. Finally, crying, he shows it to his parents. They quickly reassure him, placing the angel next to the menorah.

"It's an angel of friendship," his mother says. "And doesn't friendship mean the same thing in every religion?"

The next day, Michael and his parents deliver a present to Elijah -- a menorah Michael has made of painted spools and sequins. Elijah puts it in a place of honor, among the many carvings in his shop window. "Every night another candle glowed in my menorah," Michael writes, "standing among Elijah's crocodiles, tigers, snakes, and angels."

Ms. Robinson's paintings evoke the magic of Mr. Pierce's carvings. Done in house paint on scrap rag, they are naive and bold, and the four double-page spreads shimmer like exquisite stained-glass windows.

Here are a few other recommendations for the holidays:

* "In the Month of Kislev: A Story for Hanukkah" by Nina Jaffe, illustrated by Louise August (Viking, $15, ages 3-8). Told in the best folk-tale tradition, this is the story of two

families. Mendel the peddler is so poor he can't afford any potatoes to make latkes. On each night of Hanukkah, Mendel's three daughters stop outside the kitchen window of Feivel the merchant's house to smell the potato pancakes frying.

When Feivel, a rich miser, discovers the girls "stealing" the smell of his latkes, he wants the rabbi to punish them. But the rabbi's wise solution teaches Feivel the rewards of being charitable.

* "Kwanzaa" by A. P. Porter, pictures by Janice Lee Porter (Carolrhoda Books/First Avenue Editions paperback, $5.95, ages 3 and up). This is an excellent primer on the African-American holiday that begins Dec. 26 and continues through Jan. 1 each year. Created by Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanza celebrates African roots, and each of the seven days is devoted to a different principle: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose ("making our people as great as they can be"), creativity and faith.

* "Imani's Gift at Kwanzaa" by Denise Burden-Patmon, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $4.95, ages 4 and up). Imani is a little girl who learns that the values her family celebrates at Kwanza aren't just hollow words. In addition to explaining the holiday and offering a glossary, this book is a treat because of Mr. Cooper's illustrations. His work includes "Grandpa's Face" and "Chita's Christmas Tree," a wonderful story by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard that is set in Baltimore.

* "An Ellis Island Christmas" by Maxinne Rhea Leighton, illustrated by Dennis Nolan (Viking, $15, ages 4-8). Krysia is 6 when she leaves Poland with her mother and two older brothers to join their father in America. It is a simple, almost generic, story, but Mr. Nolan's warm paintings will inspire anyone whose ancestors arrived at Ellis Island to visit the restored museum there.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.