I have been lucky enough to travel to Israel twice, the first time with my family (my children were 6 and 9), and the second time 13 years later with my then 19-year-old daughter. I would go back in a heartbeat. The country is extraordinary, beautiful, ancient and vibrant. While small enough to tour in a week, you could spend a lifetime there and still not see everything. As an adult visiting the country, I read “The Source” by James A. Michener and “Exodus” by Leon Uris prior to my first trip. I still recommend those two books to friends and family making the journey, and I would also add to the list “Day After Night” by Anita Diamant, which was published in 2009.
Fortunately, there are now also a number of wonderful books for children about Israel that can prepare you and your family for a visit or provide you with a feeling of having visited the country. These are a few of my favorites:
- “It’s Israel’s Birthday!” by Ellen Dietrick. The preschool children who are photographed for this series of books from Kar-Ben Publishing have the most darling shanah punim (Yiddish: gorgeous faces) on the planet. You just want to reach into the pictures and start pinching cheeks all around! In this title, the children are celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut–Israel’s Independence Day, and their classroom has been turned into the State of Israel. It’s a charming and fun-filled festival of flying, touring, feasting and celebration before they must wrap it up and fly home. Instructions for making an Israel birthday hat are included at the end of the book. (Ages 3-6.)
- “One City, Two Brothers” by Chris Smith. There have been many versions of this timeless story of two brothers who love each other so much their only desire is to ensure the well-being of the other. Legend has it that the spot where the two meet and discover the truth about what each is doing is the site on which Jerusalem was built. This version has King Solomon telling the story and bears a multicultural/multi-religious message of peace. (Ages 4-8.)
- “Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel” by Sylvia A. Rouss. Sammy Spider becomes a world traveler in this exciting book that explores Israel using the five senses. In preparation for their trip to Israel, Mr. Shapiro gives Josh a toy El Al airplane. His curiosity, as usual, gets the best of him, and Sammy “boards” the mini plane. Of course, much to his mother’s dismay, Sammy is soon heading off with the Shapiro family to the airport. As a stowaway, he uses his senses to see, hear, touch, feel and smell all there is to know about Israel as he accompanies the Shapiros on their tour of the country. He also learns that “shalom” means “hello,” “goodbye” and “peace,” a helpful tool for his arrival back home to his mother’s waiting arms. (Ages 3-7.)