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Celebrating Spring Holidays

    From board books to gorgeously illustrated picture books, there are plenty of ways to share the upcoming holidays with young readers.   Tomie DePaola’s “My First Passover” is simple enough to read with your toddlers.

    For an audience that may still be chewing on the book as much as turning the pages, DePaola wisely concentrates on the symbols of the holiday.  He illustrates the food served at the Seder, depicts two young children looking together at a Haggadah, and, most importantly, shows three generations of a family gathered together to celebrate.  Like many board books, this one can be picked up and put down as needed, and a parent can say more about any of the pages that interest the baby who’s listening.

    Children five and up can learn more about the story behind the Seder in Josh Hanft’s “The Miracles of Passover,” a nonfiction picture book illustrated by noted graphic artist Seymour Chwast.  Hanft provides a very simple but straightforward retelling of the story, starting with cruel Pharaoh’s enslaving of the Jews and the rescue of baby Moses in the bulrushes.  All the essential elements of the story are included, although the death of the Egyptian children is glossed over, undoubtedly a deliberate choice for a young audience.

    Chwast’s boldly outlined illustrations are enhanced by lift-the-flaps on several pages.  One reveals the burning bush, another the snake from Moses’ staff that devoured the Pharaoh’s snake, and yet another presents the traditional Passover foods.  The ten plagues are cleverly included on a double page spread that invites children to lift the flaps and see what each image represents.  This inventive use of a popular technique is sure to pique young children’s interest in the story.

    For every holiday, there are some books that families turn to year after year.  Eric Kimmel’s “Wonders and Miracles” is filled with such a variety of stories, plays, songs and history that it is sure to find a place at the Seder table.

    Subtitled “A Passover Companion Illustrated with Art Spanning Three Thousand Years,” this handsomely produced volume reproduces pictures of an embroidered matzah cover from 19th century India, a thirteenth century illuminated manuscript from northern France, and a twentieth century gold, silver and bronze Seder plate from Baghdad.  The text includes everything from recipes for three kinds of charoset to words of wisdom from five famous rabbis.   Kimmel’s own explanations of the meaning behind each element of the Seder will answer most questions children may have about the service.

    “The Easter Story” by Brian Wildsmith tells the story from the viewpoint of the little donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem.  The animal watches in awe as Jesus commands the disciples at the Last Supper, suffers crucifixion and rises again.  The little donkey returns home, always “remembering the kind and good man he had carried on his back to Jerusalem.” The simple text is accompanied by glowing illustrations in jewel tones highlighted with gold. 

    Jan Brett’s new book, “The Easter Egg,” tells the story of a little bunny who admires everyone else’s beautifully decorated eggs but fails to decorate one of his own.  Children will feel satisfied when the bunny does a good deed that is rewarded by none other than the Easter bunny.  Brett’s trademark detail and embellishments in spring colors make this a delight.

First published in the Free Lance-Star on March 30, 2010.