The shofar has sounded, the honey dish is prepared, and children are singing their favorite Rosh Hashanah songs. The only things missing at this year’s Jewish New Year tables are new books. The only publisher taking the plunge for the High Holy Days is Kar-Ben, with three new titles on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.
Although the High Holy Days center on prayer books, the market for holiday-themed children’s books is small. And Suzanne Brandt, account representative at Feldheim, which publishes specifically for the Orthodox community, has a grim outlook. "In today's stalled economy, it's unwise to invest in seasonal children's books. The orthodox Jewish market is a limited niche to begin with and it will take several seasons until the initial investment is recouped.” Feldheim relies heavily on its successful backlist. “If you have a few books that are winners, you can bring them back again and again. They work through the generations. It’s an audience that keeps replenishing itself, while the books don’t have to.”
Holiday House publicist Kathleen Morandini laments that although they had hoped to release a new High Holy Day book this year, the quality just wasn’t there. “Our editorial staff has been working with some wonderful authors to build up our list of Judaica. We make lots of suggestions to our authors; however, in the end, we need to follow the leads of our creative talent and their inspirations. For this year, unfortunately, no one came up with a terrific manuscript like Eric A. Kimmel’s Even Higher or Mordecai Gerstein’s The White Ram. But we will definitely continue to try to fill this void.”
For Kar-Ben, there is always a place for new books. “We almost always publish at least one new book for the High Holiday--and often more than one--every year,” says Joni Sussman, publisher at Kar-Ben. “We think it’s important for families with children to see that Jewish holidays continue to have relevance and importance in their lives, and as the Jewish community evolves, our books continue to reflect the rich diversity of the contemporary Jewish community, so new books are always required.”
Titles making their debuts from Kar-Ben titles include Talia and the Rude Vegetables by Linda Elovitz, illustrated by Francesca Assirelli (Sept.), which tells the story of young Talia and her Amelia Bedelia-like misunderstanding of her grandma’s instruction to pick some “root” vegetables from her garden to be used for making a stew for Rosh Hashanah.
In What’s the Buzz? Honey for a Sweet New Year by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Eliyahu Alpern (Sept.), readers join a group of children as they tour a bee farm and learn how bees make honey (see review in this issue), some of which will grace Rosh Hashanah tables in hopes for a sweet new year. And in Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast (Sept.), written by Jamie Korngold and illustrated by Julie Fortenberry, Sadie and her little brother enthusiastically embrace the spirit of the holiday as they invite their own guests to share in a Sukkot celebration.