Let Me Count the Ways: Jewish Books

by Carol Oseran Starin

This is Jewish Book Month! Always scheduled for the month prior to the first night of Hanukkah, this year Jewish Book Month is November 4 to December 4.

Of course, being “the People of the Book,” we are book people all year ‘round. So, let’s use Jewish Book month as an opportunity to get started with lots of ideas for reading, sharing, discussing, promoting and writing Jewish books – and keep the momentum going throughout the year.

I couldn’t even think of a way to limit this column to five of anything. So, here’s a list of projects, activities, ideas and resources – for teachers, principals, kids, parents and families that promote Jewish books, Jewish literature, Jewish literacy.

tanta teva.jpg1. Choose a book theme for your classroom. Select a familiar, age appropriate character to be your messenger or mascot. A large colorful likeness of the Lorax, Tanta Teva (at right), Sammy Spider, Gershon, The Ziz, or Mrs. Katz can deliver messages, quotes, assignments, and book reviews.

2. Read to your class. Choose a book with chapters and read one chapter each session.

3. Choose a collection of stories and read one each session: Examples: a Chelm tale, a K’tonton story, or a story from Three Times Chai in which 54 rabbis tell their favorite stories or Ten Classic Jewish Children’s Stories retold by Peninnah Schram.

4. Give your teachers a book for Hanukkah and/or at the end – or the beginning – of the school year.

5. Read stories at Junior Congregation and to adults whenever you have the opportunity. Excellent choices: Does God Have A Big Toe, God’s Mailbox.

6. Create an all-school readathon with students obtaining pledges based on the number of books they read. Monies raised can be sent to the Jewish Braille Institute.

7. Start a staff book club. Choose a book that every staff member reads. This type of activity can be a real morale booster for a staff. Save part of every staff meeting to discuss the book. If you need some book ideas, check out the “significant books” list on the website of the Union for Reform Judaism: http://urj.org/books/

8. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of every staff meeting showing and discussing a new book.

9. Grow your classroom or school library. Some ideas for how:

Children at the Jewish Day School are invited to donate a new book to the school library in honor of their birthdays. In every book is a bookplate stating: This book was donated in honor of Sam Goldberg’s 7th birthday. Children love seeing “their” books on the shelf. (The school maintains a list of books they want to acquire just for this purpose.)

Does your public library have an annual sale? Last month I went to the Seattle Public Library sale and found a bonanza of Jewish books – for adults and children. I needed a cart to wheel away the treasures.

10. Send home a summer (or for winter or spring break) reading list. Work with faculty colleagues to generate a list. Create a reading chart on which students can keep track of the books they read. Students are invited to bring their charts after vacation. Some schools and libraries have recognition assemblies or bulletin boards to celebrate the reading.

11. Use parties as opportunities to promote Jewish books. Examples:

• Ilana Glosser used book baskets as centerpieces for her bat mitzvah lunch. Each centerpiece was filled with books that were than sent to Jewish Family Service

• Mian will be one year old next week. She has everything. So, for her party – instead of gifts – guests were asked to bring a new, unwrapped book. All books will be distributed through The Tree House.

• Recently I heard about a baby shower for which each guest was invited to bring her favorite Jewish book from childhood – not wrapped. After lunch each guest had five minutes to share the book she brought. The book sharing and subsequent discussions made for a powerful experience.

12. Hold a Jewish Book Fair. Try googling “jewish book fairs“. There are more than a hundred Jewish book fair organizers. Work with your school, community or JCC to organize a community wide Jewish book fair.

We’ve all heard about book groups that meet regularly to discuss a common book. What about matching your class with a class in a different part of the country? Together with the class and its teacher, choose a book. A new kind of book club! Conduct the book discussions on the internet.

13. Make and write books. Previous 5 Things columns have outlined dozens of ideas for writing shape, flip, mini, and accordion books. Also, check out this site: http://familycrafts.about.com/od/homemadebooks/

14. Don’t forget book-related accoutrements to promote and support reading. Students can make bookends for home, friends or family. A great bookend craft project can be found at http://www.squiglysplayhouse.com/ArtsAndCrafts/Crafts/Bookends.html

Use bookmarks as a place to list new or theme-oriented books. There are zillions of bookmark patterns and ideas on the internet.

15. There are some wonderful resources. Learn about them online:

• Jewish Book Council

The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted exclusively to the promotion of Jewish-interest literature. Through an ever-growing list of projects and programs, the Jewish Book Council serves as a catalyst for the writing, publication, distribution, reading and public awareness of books that reflect the rich variety of the Jewish experience.

Buy yourself a Hanukkah gift – a subscription to Jewish Book World, the Quarterly Publication of the JBC. Through this publication you will be able to keep up to date on everything new, hot authors, book fairs, the newest in children’s books, great reviews. And, be sure your school library subscribes to Jewish Book World.


• JBooks

The JBooks website asks: “Do you ever consciously try to stretch your Jewish imagination? To imagine the various kinds of lives other Jews lead? Have you read, or reread any books that gave you a new perspective on Judaism? A great site – for adults and students:


• Babaganewz not only has book ideas – but a fabulous book study archive: http://www.babaganewz.com/teachers/archive/index.cfm?cat=15&sub=BookStudyGuideArchive

• The PJ Library

This organization created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and is funded nationally with the Foundation and local organizations and philanthropists. PJ sends Jewish-content books and music, on a monthly basis, to families with children through age six. Check to website to learn more about the program and to find out if your community is involved.


• Nextbook

Created in 2003 as a locus for Jewish literature, culture, and ideas, Nextbook is a non-profit organization which commissions books on Jewish themes, sponsors public lectures, reading and performances in cities around the country, and publishes an online magazine.


• Zeek

Zeek Magazine is an independent Jewish journal of thought and culture, which features innovative writers, artists, and critics whose work speaks to questions of Jewish culture, society, and spirit.


• The Best Kids Book Site

A website full of wonderful ideas for reading and book projects. This is not a Jewish site, although the ideas can easily be used with Jewish books.


With a special thank you to Carolyn Starman Hessel, Director of The Jewish Book Council, and to Dori Daus, Sharon Wasserberg, Marian Gorman for their great ideas.