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Kids’ Books That Matter: Celebrating Sukkot in Your Own Backyard

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the yield of your land, you shall observe the Festival of [Sukkot/Booths…to last] seven days…On the first day you shall take the product of the hadar tree [etrog/citron], branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice…You shall live in booths seven days… in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land in Egypt…” (Leviticus 23: 39-43)

The first time we decided to “build” a sukkah (a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot) in our backyard, we were fortunate enough to have a patio that had at one time been covered (by the previous owners). The roofing material had been removed, but the wooden standards over the patio were still there. While probably not the most “kosher” sukkah in the world, we hung long yards of cloth from the broad beams, covered the top with palm branches (we were living in Southern California at the time), and had the kids decorate with paper chains, fruit and vegetables. Then we invited friends and family to join us for dinner in the Sukkah as many nights as possible. We had so much fun!

I used my former “Christmas tree decorating” energy and skills to beautify that and many more sukkahs over the years by adding strings of small white lights (a real bargain at after-holiday sales!), plastic fruit and vegetables from the dollar store and beautiful posters of Israel and Jerusalem from Judaica shops. Eventually we obtained the makings of our own free-standing sukkah, and created a traditional sukkah meal of stuffed cabbage, multi-grain side dishes, challah and oatmeal raisin cookies. I cannot encourage you enough, either alone or with a group of friends, to build and decorate a sukkah in your backyard. I assure you it will be a real learning experience for young and old. For guidance, watch this informative video.

While you’re sitting in your sukkah, why not read some stories? Here are a few books that can liven up your sukkah experience:

The House on the Roof: A Sukkot Story by David Adler, illustrated by Marilyn Hirsh.

Holiday House, ©2009. Ages 5-9.

Not everyone has the space to build a sukkah in their backyard. In fact, some people don’t even have a backyard at all. When one gentleman decides to build his sukkah on the roof of his apartment building, the landlady objects and orders him to take it down. When he refuses, she takes him to court. The judge’s ruling in favor of the landlord also respects the tenant’s right to observe his religious obligations for the remainder of the holiday. Based on a real court case, this classic story has recently been reprinted.

Sukkot Treasure Hunt by Allison Ofanansky, photographs by Eliyahu Alpern.

Kar-Ben Publishing, ©2009. Ages 4-9.
This delightful book is part of a wonderful series about celebrating the holidays in Israel. Watch as Aravah and her family build their sukkah and then wander the hills near Tzefat (in Northern Israel) to find and make their own lulav and etrog. Beautiful photographs and easy text create a very accessible “trip” to Israel for the entire family.

A Watermelon in the Sukkah by Sylvia A. Rouss and Shannan Rouss, illustrated by Ann Iosa.

Kar-Ben Publishing, ©2013. Ages 4-8.

Miss Sharon’s class is decorating the sukkah today, so all the children have brought in their favorite fruits—bananas, grapes, oranges, pears and much more. However, when Michael brings in a watermelon, everyone must stretch their imaginations to figure out a way to hang it from the sukkah roof.

The Mysterious Guests: A Sukkot Story by Eric A.Kimmel, illustrated by Katya Krenina.

Holiday House, ©2008. Ages 5-9.

According to legend, Abraham, his son Isaac and Isaac’s son, Jacob, visit every sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot. Master storyteller, Eric Kimmel describes what happens on the occasion of their visits, when they are welcomed—and when they are not. Extraordinary illustrations enrich this beautifully told tale.

Night Lights: A Sukkot Story by Barbara Diamond Goldin, illustrated by Laura Sucher.

URJ Press, ©2002. Ages 4-9.

Building a sukkah in the backyard and decorating it is a real family experience. Eating in it every evening (and more often on the weekends) is a ton of fun, especially with guests. Spending the night in the sukkah…now that is an adventure! This entertaining and engaging story combines the Holiday of Sukkot (The Festival of Booths), its traditions and rituals, with a child’s common fear of the dark.

The Very Crowded Sukkah by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Bob McMahon.

Two Lions: Amazon Children’s Publishing, ©2013. Ages 4-8.

After working hard to build and decorate their sukkah, Sam and his family must leave it standing alone and empty while a thunderstorm passes by. Fortunately a group of animals finds shelter in its warm inviting space. Charming illustrations and a cute, alliterative text make this a perfect Sukkot read aloud.

Happy Reading!

Kathy Bloomfield