“Even long after you’ve finished them, some books outright refuse to leave you alone. The stubbornness of a great story is truly priceless.”
—J.E. Durham

I love to read, and I adore my grandson. Combining these two obsessions, I undertook a project at the beginning of the pandemic: the Levi Library, located in what we used to call our guest room. The first time my husband referred to the room as “the library,” it felt official. Then my daughter’s mother-in-law sent a sign for the wall which reads, “Levi’s Library.” Now it was super official.

The library has built-in bookshelves, so it’s a natural spot for this venture. There are two especially large sections. One is the Dr. Seuss collection, including every book he ever wrote, all of which I’ve now read. But that’s another story. The other is the Jewish section. The Jewish shelves include books on every holiday, Israel, Jewish history, Torah stories, Jewish family life, prayer books for children, comedies, coloring books, Jewish history, Jewish cooking, stories from the shtetl and on and on.

My first significant encounter with Torah stories that were accessible to me was “Picture Stories from The Bible: The Old Testament in Full-Color Comic-Strip Form.” It was first published in 1942. I found the book decades ago on a cousin’s bookshelf. I borrowed it, and my interest in Torah stories came alive. Many years later I was delighted to come across the book in a book store. It sits in a place of honor in the library.

Working on the library has helped me stay sane. Levi is my first grandchild, born in March 2020, just as life became somewhat weird.

I didn’t realize that this project would be so much fun and allow me to reacquaint myself with my favorite children’s books and those of my children and friends. I learned about books I’d never heard of and have come to love. The project also introduced me to the wonderful world of thrift shops and places online where you can get discounted books. Even if a book is out of print, you can often find it online.

The pandemic seems to be receding into a bad memory, but my work continues. I recently asked book-savvy friends and clergy for their suggestions.

Rav Chazzan Ken Richmond, co-senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Natick, likes “The Passover Parrot,” “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” and “Once Upon a Shabbos.” Amy Salinger, library and media specialist at a Waltham school, believes that the “All-of-a-Kind Family” series should have a place of honor in every Jewish home. Robin Kahn, director of education and teen engagement at Temple Israel of Natick, agrees.

Rabbi Jonah Rank is president and rosh yeshivah of Hebrew Seminary: A Rabbinical School for Deaf & Hearing in Chicago. “Two books I especially love to read with my kids,” he said, ”are ‘Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi’ and ‘Ezra’s BIG Shabbat Question.’”

Rabbi Raysh Weiss, also co-senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Natick, who is married to Rabbi Rank, recommends the same books. Among her other favorites are “In the Land of Happy Tears,” “The Shabbat Box” and “An Elephant in the Sukkah.” “Our kids also love ‘Beni’s Family Treasury: Stories for the Jewish Holidays,’” she added. “’All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah’ is also a big hit in our house. And there’s a fabulously creative and Jewishly literate graphic novel that came out recently, called ‘The Unfinished Corner.'”

“Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher” is a favorite of Rabbi Dena Bodian’s family, as well as “Garlic and Onions.” Rabbi Bodian is a college chaplain and campus rabbi at Wellesley College. The family is also fond of Chelm stories. In Jewish literature, Chelm is a mythical village populated by fools. As Dr. Yvette Alt Miller, a writer and professor, explains, “They’re fools of the sweetest nature who manage to convey profound wisdom even with their silly antics.” (In reality, there is a Chelm in Eastern Poland.) The stories are very funny. Other family favorites include “Olameinu” short stories, the “Devora Doresh” series, the “Savta Simcha” series and “Ike and Mama” books. Another favorite is “Oy Feh So?” and, once again, the “All-of-a-Kind Family.”

Green family favorites include “The World’s Birthday,” “God’s Mailbox,” “The Passover Parrot,” “Melly’s Menorah,” “Standing on One Foot,” “Goodnight Bubbala” and “Hanukah Money.” The latter was written by Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916), the most popular and iconic Jewish writer of his generation, whose writings were the basis of “Fiddler on the Roof.” And we love Chelm stories. And, of course, the “All-of-a-Kind” books.

Anyone with children from birth to 12 years of age is encouraged to sign up for PJ Library. The organization sends free, award-winning books celebrating Jewish traditions, stories and culture.

When I start to feel that I’m becoming a bit of a biblio-fanatic, I remember the words of Luc Van Donkersgoed, a Dutch genius: “Think not of the books you’ve bought as a ‘to be read’ pile. Instead, think of your bookcase as a wine cellar. You collect books to be read at the right time, the right place, and the right mood.” I would add: and with your kids and grandkids!

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