by Lisa Silverman, Jewish Journal
The good news for Jewish children’s books this year is the occasion of the 20th anniversary of beloved picture book character Sammy Spider. There is even a colorful plush toy available on the publisher’s Web site (karben.com). Sammy’s creator, the prolific L.A.-based children’s author Sylvia Rouss, continues to turn out new titles for Jewish children, and her two newest books are highlighted here. One of them does not feature any talking spiders, but it is a delightful Sukkot-themed collaboration with Sylvia’s daughter, Shannon Rouss. Unfortunately, the same economic issues affecting the secular world of children’s publishing have hurt Jewish children’s book publishing; it is hard to justify publication of books about Jewish holidays when the likely sales of such books will be minimal, thus leaving few to choose from. However, the following new titles rise above the rest and will make fine holiday choices for the coming new year.
“Sammy Spider’s First Yom Kippur” by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn (Kar-Ben, $16.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback).
Josh Shapiro and his family, along with Sammy and his patient spider mother, again appear in a holiday tale — this one focusing on the meaning of Yom Kippur. As usual, little Sammy is the curious observer of all things human, who never quite gets the fact that he is actually a spider and is supposed to spend time spinning webs, not celebrating Jewish holidays. And, again, his wise spider mother is a font of all Judaic knowledge, explaining various rituals in simple, preschool-appropriate language. Young Josh has disobeyed family rules and played with his ball inside, inadvertently breaking the honey dish, and disturbing Sammy and Mrs. Spider’s intricate web. Josh has been learning about Jewish holidays in school, and his parents help him to write up a list of “people you want to apologize to before Yom Kippur.” In the end, it is not only his parents who deserve to hear, “I’m sorry,” but Sammy Spider as well. The colorful cut-paper art by Katherine Janus Kahn is reminiscent of Eric Carle’s work and is the most appealing aspect of this fun series for children. Other appropriate titles for the season include “Sammy Spider’s First Rosh Hashanah,” “Sammy Spider’s First Sukkot” and “Sammy Spider’s First Simchat Torah.”
“A Watermelon in the Sukkah” by Sylvia A. Rouss and Shannan Rouss, Illustrated by Ann Iosa (Kar-Ben, $16.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback).
All the kids in Miss Sharon’s class are excited about being able to bring their favorite fruits to school in order to hang them in the sukkah. Michael is especially excited because his favorite fruit is a … watermelon. Uh-oh! This funny premise will engage children while they are learning about how the holiday is celebrated. Miss Sharon is unusually accommodating to Michael’s request to find a way to hang up the watermelon, and the other children in class are depicted as enjoying the various attempts to solve the conundrum. But before Michael resigns himself to bringing his “second-favorite fruit” to school, the class figures out an ingenious solution and all ends well. The bright and cheery artwork accents the moods of the happy schoolchildren along with a curious squirrel who seems to enjoy watching the problem-solving process. Luckily for everyone, Michael’s second-favorite fruit — a pumpkin! — gets left at home.