These Passover books for children educate and entertain young readers


March 18, 1994|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Sun Staff Writer

Passover begins at sundown on March 26, less than two weeks before the Orioles open the season against the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards. Kids anticipating the Jewish holiday and the baseball season -- not necessarily in that order -- ought to check out "Matzah Ball: A Passover Story."

It's a new book written by Mindy Avra Portnoy, Associate Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Washington, and illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn, an artist in Rockville.

Both are Orioles fans, and so is Aaron, the narrator of "Matzah Ball" (Kar-Ben Copies, $13.95 hardcover, $5.95 paperback, 32 pages, ages 5-9). Aaron's friend, Larry, invites him to an early season game against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards. Aaron is thrilled until his mother reminds him that he can't eat ballpark junk food because the game is during Passover.

So she packs him a lunch of matzo, tuna fish, chocolate chip macaroons and "those disgusting, sugary fruit slices." No one else in the group of friends going to the game is Jewish, and Aaron feels sorry for himself:

It's not easy being Jewish, and sometimes it feels downright weird. Every year, I have to explain why there's a sukkah in my backyard, and why I'm always missing great TV shows on Shabbat. My friends think I'm lucky because I get extra days off from school, and they say I have it made because Hanukkah lasts for eight days, but I'm not so sure. Sometimes, I wish I could be like everyone else.

At the game, Aaron is miserable after his friends eat all of his lunch and then make a trip to the concession stand for hot pretzels, popcorn and all the other stuff Aaron can't eat. He stays behind, and an old man takes one of the empty seats next to him.

The stranger tells of how he and his boyhood friends took matzo and macaroons to Ebbets Field when the Brooklyn Dodgers played during Passover. The old man shares some of his matzo with Aaron as Aaron's hero, Cal Ripken, comes to the plate.

Well, he's no Hank Greenberg, but he does deliver. Ripken's home run somehow sails deep high into the left-center field bleachers, where Aaron snags it, his matzo shattering. It's a gift worthy of the prophet Elijah. . . . Hey, speaking of Elijah, how did that old Dodgers fan vanish so quickly?

The story is certainly original, and Ms. Kahn's watercolor illustrations offer plenty of Camden Yards details for young fans. It's available at several local bookstores, or by calling Kar-Ben Copies at (800) 452-7236. Kar-Ben -- at 6800 Tildenwood Lane, Rockville 20852 -- is an excellent source for Haggadahs and other Passover books for kids.

* The Haggadahs of the Middle Ages provided inspiration for "The Four Questions," text by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, paintings by Ori Sherman (Puffin paperback, $5.99, 32 pages, all ages).

Animals dressed in all sorts of finery -- a goat in a top hat, an elephant in a print dress and ankle bracelets -- celebrate the Seder in exquisite, folk-style illustrations. The text explains the Passover traditions and answers the four questions posed by children at the Seder.

The book doesn't talk down to kids, and it's an accessible introduction to the holiday for Gentiles who have been invited to their first Seder.

* "Sesame Street" fans and their older brothers and sisters can share "Kippi and the Missing Matzah," by Louise Gikow, illustrated by Tom Brannon (Comet International Inc. in cooperation with Children's Television Workshop) $12.95, 32 pages, ages 3-8).

It stars Elmo and his friend Kippi Ben Kippod -- Kippi the porcupine -- who is visiting from Israel. Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster and Prairie Dawn are among the guests at Kippi's Seder, and they leaf through the Haggadah and learn the significance of the different foods.

In a version of "hiding the afikoman," everyone sets off to find the matzo Elmo has lost on his way back from the store. It turns out Oscar the Grouch has quite an appetite for matzo -- and bitter herbs, of course.

The hardcover book is available separately or as part of "The Shalom Sesame Sharing Passover Family Kit" from Comet International. The regular kit ($23.95) includes the book, an accompanying audio cassette, a coloring and activity book and a 52-card deck of "Muppet Matzah Cards." The deluxe kit ($36.95) has all of the above, plus "Jerusalem Jones and the Lost Afikoman: A Shalom Sesame Videotape." To order, call (800) 428-9920.

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