Stories and traditions are repeated from season to season and become part of holiday celebrations themselves. This year, new books for the most joyful holidays in Judaism and Christianity offer fresh approaches.

Cass Foster, whose 60-minute Shakespeare series introduced students and community theater groups to condensed versions of the Bard, brings his expertise to whittling the length while keeping the language and order in Sixty-Minute Seder: Preserving the Essence of the Passover Haggadah by Cass Foster and Nellie Foster (Six Points Press, Feb.). After guests at Seder dinners hosted with wife and co-author Nellie joked they should apply the 60-minute concept to the event--which typically lasts for two to five hours—the concept for the book was born. In Sixty-Minute Seder, the Fosters preserved the order while editing the commentary. Nellie added some recipes (including vegetarian options) and tips for planning and preparation, with an eye toward making the Haggadah (the book of readings for the Passover service) accessible to all, regardless of faith, background, or familiarity with Jewish laws, customs, and traditions, reflecting the diversity at their own Seder table. “We know numerous families who celebrate Passover,” says Cass. “Some are more familiar with the Passover customs than us. Others are completely secular with very little sense of our traditions, while some belong to interfaith families where partners lack equal familiarity.” The Fosters already have ideas for revisions that will allow women and children to take a more active role. “We’ve come up with ways children as young as 3 or 4 can facilitate as many as 10 minutes of the hour experience,” Cass says. Sixty-Minute Seder has been endorsed by Reform, Reconstructionist, Liberal, Conservative, Progressive, and Orthodox rabbis.

An older children’s book, The Legend of the Easter Egg by Lori Walburg, originally published in 1999, gets a resurrection in a new edition with illustrations by bestselling illustrator Richard Cowdrey (Zonderkidz, Feb.). When Tommy’s little sister falls ill, he goes to live at the candy store from Walburg’s The Legend of the Candy Cane (Zondervan, 1997) and discovers that Easter isn’t just about eggs and baskets. The story looks at typical secular symbols of Easter, Walburg says, and blends them with religious themes of Ash Wednesday, foot washing, darkness, and the Resurrection. “In an age when the spiritual focus of major holidays is being directed away from Jesus, we felt that it was very relevant and important to update the look of this perennial seller, so parents have a resource to share the valuable message of Easter with their little ones,” says Annette Bourland, senior v-p and group publisher at Zondervan.

In another book that blends cultural and religious traditions, Kathleen Bostrom continues her character-driven series for toddlers with Rufus and Ryan Celebrate Easter! (Candy Cane Press, Feb.) Four-year-old Ryan and his stuffed monkey, who discovered church and prayer in previous books in the series, celebrate colored eggs and baskets along with the true meaning of Easter. Bostrom says it was challenging to introduce the concepts of death and darkness while developing plot and characters and including cultural traditions in a 20-page board book. Illustrations by Rebecca Thornburgh encourage exploration and interaction, and the focus is on joy and Jesus coming back to life. Bostrom, a former pastor, says young children can start to recognize certain words from faith and church concepts, even if they can’t read yet themselves. Her own son learned the word “God” while looking on as she wrote a sermon.