The best picture books for Jewish preschool children

Sylvia A. Rouss Author Of Sammy Spider's First ABC
By Sylvia A. Rouss

Who am I?

I believe that good Jewish stories are important tools in building Jewish identity. But when I first taught preschoolers, the books were either too didactic or written for older children. One day, when the children in my class were enthusiastically discussing the Christmas display at the mall, the idea came to me that maybe an eight-legged Spider celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah could compete with Frosty the Snowman. When Sammy Spider asks to spin a dreidel, he is told, “Spider’s don’t spin dreidels. Spiders spin webs.” The response became a favorite with Jewish children and a form of the phrase is part of all the Sammy Spider holiday and values books.


I wrote...

Sammy Spider's First ABC

By Sylvia A. Rouss, Katherine Janus Kahn (illustrator),

Book cover of Sammy Spider's First ABC

What is my book about?

Sammy Spider goes through the English alphabet using the Jewish holidays and traditions celebrated by the Shapiro family. With its sweet rhymes and iconic illustrations, this book is a fun new addition to the Sammy Spider collection. “A is for apple, a Rosh Hashanah treat. Josh dips it in honey, so tasty and sweet!”

The books I picked & why

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Mouse in the Matzah Factory

By Francine Medoff, Nicole In Den Bosch (illustrator),

Book cover of Mouse in the Matzah Factory

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite stories and it allows the reader to observe the process of making matzah. Through the eyes of a little mouse, we watch the care that is taken from growing and harvesting the wheat, to transporting it to the matzah factory, and finally, baking it into matzah. I think this story more than any other inspired my writing. I wanted to create a relatable character that would engage young children – a character who exhibits childlike curiosity and who wants to discover and participate in the events occurring around him. 

Mouse in the Matzah Factory

By Francine Medoff, Nicole In Den Bosch (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mouse in the Matzah Factory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journey with a curious little mouse as he travels from a wheat field in the country to a big city factory where harvested wheat is baked into matzah.


Dinosaur on Shabbat

By Diane Levin Rauchwerger, Jason Wolff (illustrator),

Book cover of Dinosaur on Shabbat

Why this book?

This is a favorite of mine and my students. Every preschool child loves dinosaurs, and nothing is more exciting and fun than a dinosaur celebrating Shabbat! Laughter abounds when the silly dinosaur makes mistakes just like the mistakes that the children hearing the book have made at Shabbat. The rhymes have a nice flow that keeps the attention of young listeners.

Dinosaur on Shabbat

By Diane Levin Rauchwerger, Jason Wolff (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dinosaur on Shabbat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An eager and excited dinosaur causes chaos when he arrives to help a boy and his family celebrate Shabbat.


A Turn for Noah: A Hanukkah Story

By Susan Remick Topek, Sally Springer (illustrator),

Book cover of A Turn for Noah: A Hanukkah Story

Why this book?

A Turn for Noah is a Hanukkah story written by Susan Remick Topek. At preschool, Noah can’t quite spin the dreidel. Hanukkah is about to end, and still Noah “can’t do it.” With the encouragement of his teacher and all his friends, on the very last day of Hanukkah, Noah takes a deep breath, twists the handle quickly, and exclaims, “It’s spinning!” And since one good turn deserves another, Noah lights the Hanukkah candles with the teacher’s help. 

I particularly like A Turn for Noah because so many of my preschool students have trouble learning to spin a dreidel and the story shows how with effort, even difficult tasks can be completed. Little children identify with Noah's efforts, feelings, and his success.

A Turn for Noah: A Hanukkah Story

By Susan Remick Topek, Sally Springer (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Turn for Noah as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Noah has trouble learning to spin the dreidel as his nursery school class celebrates Hanukkah.

Something from Nothing

By Phoebe Gilman,

Book cover of Something from Nothing

Why this book?

This is based on a traditional Jewish folk tale. Grandpa can turn Joseph’s “frazzled and worn” baby blanket into a small jacket because there is just enough material left. Each time the blanket becomes too “frazzled and worn,” Grandpa makes it into something else, a tie or a handkerchief, until it is just a small button. But when the button is lost, we finally learn how someone can make “something from nothing.” With wonderful illustrations, this is a humorous and loving interpretation of life in a 19th-century Jewish village.

Something from Nothing

By Phoebe Gilman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Something from Nothing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Phoebe Gilman's beloved classic celebrates its 20th anniversary!

Joseph's grandfather made him a beautiful blanket when he was a baby, but now it's frazzled and worn, and Joseph's mother says it is time to throw it out. Joseph doesn't want to part with his special blanket, and he's sure that his grandfather can fix it. Sure enough, Grandfather miraculously alters the blanket into useful items again and again. But when Joseph loses the final item, even Grandfather can't make something from nothing. But maybe Joseph can?

Based on the Yiddish folktale "Joseph's overcoat," Phoebe Gilman's gorgeous artwork charts the transformation…


The Shabbat Box

By Lesley Simpson, Nicole In Den Bosch (illustrator),

Book cover of The Shabbat Box

Why this book?

The Shabbat Box is by Lesley Simpson. Ira’s preschool uses a box to store all the Shabbat objects and when school ends on Shabbat, one of the students gets to take the box home. But when it’s Ira’s turn to take it home, he loses it in the snow. Upset, he decides to make a new Shabbat Box for his class. On Monday, at sharing time, his friends are all surprised and pleased by Ira’s new Shabbat Box. And, then to the children’s delight, the teacher tells them she found the missing Shabbat Box, and now they have two! The story is a favorite of preschoolers.

I love how The Shabbat Box transfers the Shabbat classroom experience into an experience at home. For many of the children, Shabbat occurs only in the classroom and this story helps both the child and the family see how they can celebrate Shabbat at home.

The Shabbat Box

By Lesley Simpson, Nicole In Den Bosch (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shabbat Box as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's finally Ira's turn to take home the Shabbat Box from school. But a bad storm blows open his book bag and the box is lost. What will Ira do? A warm introduction to Shabbat for preschoolers.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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