Jack­ie and Jesse and Joni and Jae: A Rosh Hashanah Story

Chris Barash, Chris­tine Bat­tuz (Illus.)

  • Review
By – July 29, 2019

The rit­u­al of tash­lich, in which Jews sym­bol­i­cal­ly cast off the year’s sins by throw­ing pieces of bread into a body of water, has obvi­ous appeal for chil­dren. In fact, the cus­tom of observ­ing this tra­di­tion, usu­al­ly on Rosh Hashanah, has become much more wide­ly known among Jews of dif­fer­ent lev­els of reli­gious obser­vance. Once asso­ci­at­ed with more tra­di­tion­al com­mu­ni­ties, tash­lich is now a pop­u­lar Jew­ish expres­sion of mean­ing­ful regret and the res­o­lu­tion to do bet­ter. Jack­ie and Jessie and Joni and Jae adds to the list of fine pic­ture books inter­pret­ing this prac­tice, includ­ing April Hal­prin Way­land and Stephane Jorisch’s New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Sto­ry, and Tash­lich at Tur­tle Rock, by Susan Schnur, Anna Schnur-Fish­man, and Alex Steele-Mor­gan. In this newest book, Chris Barash and Chris­tine Bat­tuz have specif­i­cal­ly tai­lored their guide to the lev­el of under­stand­ing of young read­ers, using acces­si­ble rhymes and sim­ple illus­tra­tions to con­vey the process through which bad feel­ings can be trans­formed into bet­ter actions.

From the first page, the sto­ry empha­sizes the sea­son­al beau­ty of autumn as well as a feel­ing of togeth­er­ness, as the four friends walk togeth­er, each car­ry­ing a bag of bread labeled with his or her own name. Chil­dren, who feel reas­sured by their names on every­thing — from lunch bags to back­packs — will imme­di­ate­ly relate to tash­lich as a kind of group adventure.

In answer to the excit­ed kids’ ques­tion, Is this bread for the ducks/​or a game that we’ll play?” Rab­bi Miri­am patient­ly explains what the rit­u­al is all about. The same group of four friends sits on the rocks, appear­ing pen­sive and seri­ous as they con­sid­er what they have done wrong. Adults may smile at the recog­ni­tion that mak­ing fun of your friend when he spills grape juice on his shirt, or delib­er­ate­ly squish­ing his clay” are sins, yet the abil­i­ty to under­stand that these choic­es were hurt­ful is cru­cial to children’s emo­tion­al and moral devel­op­ment. Every page of the book is cal­i­brat­ed to con­nect with chil­dren as they learn what it means to be sorry.

The story’s poet­ry and pic­tures are sim­ple, but not sim­plis­tic. There are love­ly metaphors, such as one which describes the sin-bear­ing crumbs as they start­ed to fly, did a charm­ing bal­let, slipped down to the riv­er and drift­ed away.” A two-page spread with­out peo­ple, shows flow­ing green water, grey rocks, and bits of bread danc­ing togeth­er. Images of par­ents, grand­par­ents, and oth­er chil­dren make it clear that tash­lich is multi­gen­er­a­tional. At the book’s con­clu­sion, the same four chil­dren are hold­ing hands, this time walk­ing away from the read­er. Chil­dren will under­stand this image as a sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion. What began as a promis­ing unknown, some­thing called tash­lich they need­ed to do,” has end­ed as an unfor­get­table moment of close­ness with­in a new­ly rel­e­vant Jew­ish custom.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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