There are a lot of mediocre Purim books. That’s because there are a lot of mediocre books about everything. (What’s Sturgeon’s Law again? Ninety percent of everything is crap?) But here are a few selections that aren’t just good Purim stories, they’re good story-stories.
The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Jill Weber, was on my list of the best Jewish Children’s Books of 2011. I was surprised at how much Maxie, then 6, loved it. She pored over the lush illustrations—a mix of gouache, acrylic, tempera, watercolor and pencil—while I appreciated the non-showy, non-cutesy, matter-of-fact narration of the Purim story. As I wrote in Tablet, “It’s a sophisticated but still kid-friendly retelling, dramatic and immersive. It is brilliantly colored and folk-arty, with Moorish flair. I love watching Maxie study the painting contrasting Esther’s simple ponytail and outfit with the ungapatchka looks of the painted ladies of the royal court.” It’s a great intro to the holiday for those who aren’t all that familiar with it.
The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne, is smart, funny and thought-provoking for four- to seven-year-olds. It’s about Nate, who wants to dress as a space alien for Purim even though all his friends want to be superheroes. Does he dare to be different? His Daddy and Abba help him figure out the answer for himself. Abba gently observes to Nate that Queen Esther saved her people because she didn’t hide who she was. “She told King Ahashuerus she was Jewish, and that her people were in danger. Sometimes showing who you really are makes you stronger, even if you’re different from other people.” The art is cute and cartoon-y. (My fave design element, as I noted when I wrote about the book’s publication for Tablet in 2013, is a tiny costumed Wolverine in the Purim carnival bouncy house. One must assume his claws aren’t actually adamantium or that bouncy fun would end quickly.) The book —the first explicitly Jewish LGBT picture book—isn’t at all didactic; Purim really does work as a coming-out metaphor. Kids may miss it, which is fine too—simply showing two dads is pleasingly normalizing and inclusive, and kids are way more likely to focus on Nate’s costume dilemma (one I experienced in my own childhood the year I decided to dress as Haman, complete with big mustache and embroidered caftan, instead of the pretty queen, because down with pastryarchy, am I right?).
Cakes and Miracles by Barbara Diamond Goldin, illustrated by Jaime Zollars, is a cake-sweet 2010 reworking of a book originally published in 1991. The language has been simplified from the earlier version, making it appropriate for kids as young as five, and Zollars’s luminous, color-drenched, spiritual paintings—she’s said she’s influenced by the work of the Flemish masters, and y’know, I can see it—add so much depth. Cakes and Miracles is a folktale about a competent blind boy in a shtetl who, as Purim approaches, wishes he could be still more helpful. A dream-visit from an angel shows him that he can be an artist as well as a helper. I found it a teensy bit sugary, but the book is a positive portrayal of disability, the art is luscious, and there’s a recipe at the end for hand-sculpted cookies, so win-win-win.
Not for All the Hamentaschen in Town by Laura Aron Milhander, illustrated by Inna Chernyak, is simply goofy. It’s a retelling of the story of the Three Little Pigs transposed to Purim, in which “not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin” becomes “not for all the hamentaschen in town!” In this version, the three porcine wonders (Rishon, Sheni, and Shlishi, Hebrew for First, Second, and Third) make crowns for their costumes with varying degrees of focus and diligence. The Big Bad Wolf is a cretin with Groucho Marx eyebrows and a Thom-Browne-esque slinky suit who wants to sneak into the Purim Carnival and steal all the hamentaschen. The plot doesn’t bear much scrutiny, but the repetition will delight little kids and they’ll enjoy the parallels to the familiar fairy tale. The bright Peppa-Pig-esque art is charming, too.
The Whole Megillah (Almost) by Shoshana Silberman, illustrated by Katherine Kahn is a vintage book I have to admit I haven’t read. But I just ordered it because it looks awesome. It’s not really a picture book, but rather a detailed chapter-by-chapter kid version of the Purim megillah with lots of commentary and activity ideas adults can share and discuss with the kids in their lives. The drawings are by the artist behind Sammy Spider, but they’re rendered in an entirely different, non-collage-y and non-block-y style. Sophisticated, but welcoming! The cover is to die for, with a curly-haired Esther in the most spectacular pink, green and red royal robe with bell sleeves and embroidery, a dozing king on a throne and an evil (waxed, curly mustache evil!) Haman lurking behind a curtain. Originally published in 1990, it looks thoughtful and fun for families with older kids as well as Hebrew schools.
Have a great holiday, and don’t make any poppyseed hamentashen for your children. They’re gross. I’m still resentful.
Marjorie Ingall is the author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.