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Monday, March 17, 2014

Frogs in the Bed: A Book Review (“I hate when that happens!” said Pharaoh)

image I recently had a chance to interview author/illustrator Ann Koffsky for my kids’ book writing blog (come on over and read about it here!).  And today, I got a chance to read an advance review copy of her new Pesach book, Frogs in the Bed:  My Pesach Seder Activity Book.

(I received it a while ago – the book is now available… I’m just slow on the uptake here.  Did I mention we just moved to a whole ‘nuther continent???)

Anyway, the book has now been read and my verdict is…  “Bubby-riffic”!

What does that mean?

Every year for a long time, my mother and I used to shop for Pesach food and when we were done, and all the groceries safely stashed in the car, we’d wander into the next-door bookstore to find something new and exciting for Pesach.  I’d buy a new haggadah, and she’d buy something for my kids:  a story book, activity book… whatever I suggested to her that they might like as a (readable, not eatable) treat.

And this, I’m happy to report, is a really likeable, readable book.

Frogs in the Bed starts out with a contagiously singable story / song (one of our favourites around here!), followed by activities for several sections of the seder (including the full Four Questions), and a fun 3-page comic in place of the regular story.

What I liked about Frogs in the Bed:

  • Hebrew names of the seder sections are included along with certain activities (Maggid, Motzi Matza, Marror, Tzafun).  This is a nice touch, and a nod to lining up this kids' version with the full "grown-up" haggadah.
  • imageThe art!  The colourful, frog-laced illustrations (and full-colour activity pages, which are a rarity in the world of Jewish kids’ activity books) – they’re great!
  • The content – clear, concise, kid-level explanations of seder symbols and rituals.

What I didn’t love about Frogs in the Bed:

  • Only four "steps" out of the total fifteen are mentioned, which might frustrate kids who want to follow along in "their" book.  (This is based on past years' experience with kid haggadahs that don't include all the sections.)
  • Hebrew names of seder steps aren’t translated literally - “Motzi Matza” in Hebrew has the words “Munchy Matza” next to it; “Shulchan Orech” says “Silly Seder Scene.”  Non-Hebrew speakers may assume these are the words’ meanings… but they’re not.
  • It’s short.  If you’re hoping for either a full-length storybook or a full-length activity book, you won’t get either one here.

If you want a single volume that will magically teach your kids everything about Pesach, this isn't it.  But for a fun way to introduce or supplement your family's preparations for Pesach, it's a great bet and probably one you'll come back to year after year.

That’s why I’ve given it the “Bubby-riffic” rating.  Would I buy it for my own kids?  Honestly, probably not, especially in the cash-strapped weeks leading up to Pesach.  But not because it’s not wonderful.  Mainly because it’s short, and silly, and when I buy them I book, I want it to be something “substantial” that will probably bore them to tears.  (The literary equivalent of eating their veggies.)

Would I hint, strongly, that it’s something my mother (or another friend or relative looking for a meaningful gift) could get them that they’d probably love…?  Absolutely!!!  (The literary equivalent of her sneaking them cupcakes when I’m not around.)

imageThe art is easily the best thing about this book.  More than lively, it's often hilarious (GZ would spend all day on the page with Pharaoh brushing his teeth and watching the frogs diving into the toilet if I had an actual hard copy of the book).  And, while the activities aren't super-abundant, they're fun, original and well-drawn enough to hold kids' attention... and most importantly, get them excited about seder night.

Note: the book includes sheet music, but I don’t know if it includes a URL or link where you can go to listen to the song.  However, there are lots of versions online (many use slightly different lyrics), so it shouldn’t be a problem to find and sing this song at home with your kids.

While you’re online shopping for Pesach books, there’s still time to buy…

As mentioned, I received a free PDF copy of this book in return for a fair review.  If you’ve been reading here for a while you know that nobody gets in the way of me and my opinion, for better or for worse.  So you can rest assured that this and any other reviews that appear on any of my blogs are completely unbiased in every way.

Speaking of other blogs… please stop by and visit me over at:

Do you have a newish, Jewish, Pesach book you’d like to recommend?  Pop on in to the Comments section to let me know!

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