Beni’s Tiny Tales: Around the Year in Jew­ish Holidays

  • Review
By – July 31, 2023

Jane Bre­skin Zal­ben’s Beni series has become a ven­er­at­ed clas­sic, with its intri­cate­ly drawn bear fam­i­ly stand­ing the test of time. They have become famil­iar to and beloved by a gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren who have joined their Jew­ish hol­i­day celebrations.

In this lat­est sto­ry — a tale for a new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers to cher­ish — Beni is a grown-up bear with a fam­i­ly of his own; and togeth­er, they cel­e­brate Jew­ish hol­i­days with warmth, humor, and love.

Each sec­tion of Beni’s Tiny Tales focus­es on a spe­cif­ic Jew­ish hol­i­day and includes a sto­ry, a selec­tion of crafts and activ­i­ties, and sev­er­al mouth-water­ing recipes that relate to the hol­i­day. Beni and his chil­dren bake for Rosh Hashanah, which results in a rol­lick­ing food fight and, lat­er, some soul-search­ing and apolo­gies. The Yom Kip­pur sto­ry dis­cuss­es fast­ing but pri­mar­i­ly focus­es on doing good deeds and repent­ing for those that went wrong. The Sukkot sto­ry fea­tures a cousins’ sleep­over in the Sukkah, which is rained out but that’ll pro­vide won­der­ful mem­o­ries for years to come. The Chanukah sto­ry is told in the form of a live­ly graph­ic nov­el; and the Passover seder involves a game of ping pong with maz­toh balls. Zal­ben also incor­po­rates the less­er-known hol­i­days of Tu B’She­vat and Lag B’Omer, in the form of tree-plant­i­ng, pic­nics, hair­cuts, and Tal­mu­dic tales. A stay-up-all-night Shavuot par­ty for the extend­ed fam­i­ly reminds read­ers of the cus­tom of learn­ing Torah until the break of dawn.

Crafts and activ­i­ties include a hand­made meno­rah, a Tu B’She­vat seder plate, the music and lyrics for tra­di­tion­al hol­i­day songs, trans­la­tions of parts of the seder, instruc­tions for mak­ing Purim masks, and much more. Read­ers will find recipes like can­dy caramel apples for Sim­chat Torah, latkes for Chanukah, and a Sephardic date-and-almond haroset for the seder.

It is Zal­ben’s amaz­ing art­work that helps make the book extra spe­cial. She uses col­ored pen­cils, ink, acrylic paints, and water­col­ors to bring the bears’ world to life. The art is every­where — even the crafts and recipes boast Zal­ben’s dis­tinc­tive style. A cozy, fam­i­ly-ori­ent­ed, tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish sen­si­bil­i­ty per­me­ates every page as these sweet bears wend their way through the cal­en­dar year, cel­e­brat­ing with fam­i­ly, learn­ing from one anoth­er, and sub­tly teach­ing gen­tle lessons to the chil­dren who read about them.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions