Using humor, mystery, and unusual settings, Clifton resident Ethel Stein has created a children’s holiday book filled with adventure.
“It’s not didactic,” Stein told this newspaper, explaining that the book is intended for those who might not celebrate the holidays in their homes but would enjoy reading stories about them.
“Children are immersed in the adventure and get a glimmer of what the holiday is about,” said Stein, who taught in Clifton and Passaic middle and elementary schools for 25 years.
“They learn about the holiday indirectly,” she said. “While it’s [primarily] for Jewish children, it could also be used in a multi-cultural kind of setting,” for example, where teachers or parents want to teach children about the holidays of other students.
With settings ranging from the New York subway to an Amtrak station to a mysterious sukkah, the book tackles each holiday with a story. In a Passover tale, the heroine has a fifth question she wants answered, while tashlich is discussed in a funny story centering on the misadventures of two young boys.
“The book was in the making for quite a while,” said Stein, a board member of the Clifton Jewish Center and a past teacher in its Sunday school.
She is especially pleased to have used the names of her own children in her book, something she has done in stories for children’s magazines. While the incidents in the book are fictional, “one or two came close to real stories,” said the longtime educator, who spent most of her teaching career at Clifton’s Christopher Columbus Middle School.
“I always wanted to be an author,” she said, pointing out that she has done quite a bit of writing for seniors’ publications and travel magazines. “But what I really enjoyed was writing for children.”
Stein said she recently read some of her stories to a local Hebrew school class.
“They liked listening,” she said, “but what they really loved were the illustrations. I had to walk up and down the room showing them to all the children.”
The cartoon-like drawings were done by Donna Kaye, her daughter.
“She’s a lawyer but has always been very artistically inclined,” said Stein, the mother of three and grandmother of four. “She told me to read her the stories and she would try to illustrate them. The children loved the pictures.”
In a brief review of Stein’s books, Rabbi Ari Korenblit, religious leader of the Clifton Jewish Center, praised the value of story-telling, quoting the Vitznitzer rebbe: “How does the Torah begin? God is telling us stories. That is the most profound way to teach.”
“Jewish Holiday Adventures,” published by RoseDog books, is available on Amazon.com, at www.RoseDog books.com, or by calling (800) 834-1803.