Picture books for toddlers link learning to Jewish ideals

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Boy, was that always the case for St. Louis native Sarah Hirsch Maddali.

After she and her husband had two children, now 3 and 6, Maddali became frustrated that she could not find age-appropriate books for them that mixed Jewish ideals with developmental concepts of learning.

“The secular market is saturated with these types of books,” said Maddali, who attended Parkway Central until her junior year, when she transferred to Block Yeshiva High School (which closed in 2016).

Maddali said she began to become more religious and interested in Judaism during her teenage years.


“One day while reading to my eldest daughter about colors, I wondered why, instead of a simple red apple, it couldn’t be a red apple dipped in honey for Rosh Hashanah,” said- she declared. “Or instead of a yellow banana, a yellow etrog that you shake on Sukkot. Why not incorporate something meaningful from Judaism and Torah that could be associated with this object and color? »

Sarah Hirsch Maddali

So Maddali, who now lives in Albany, NY, started looking for books that did just that. Not finding them, she decides to create them with the help of a graphic designer.

And although it took him three years to do so, the result is HaShem’s Gems hardback books, each of which examines the developmental concepts of children 6 months to 6 years old through a Jewish lens.

“My First Colors Through a Jewish Lens”, “My First Numbers Through a Jewish Lens”, and “My First Jewish Holiday Book” are the first three books. Two more will be available in June, one on shapes and another on Brachot (blessings). Maddali promises several other titles by the end of the year.

“The goal is to have this integrated learning experience for children,” said Maddali, whose background is in neuroscience. “Integrate our Jewish heritage, our culture, our tradition, into everything we learn.”

The color book, for example, arranges Jewish objects from light to dark on each page, allowing children to experience a wide range of colors. They will learn that green is the color of the roof of a sukkah, and purple is for grape juice for kiddush on Shabbat.

Instead of counting arbitrary objects, the number book teaches children to count items that have meaning and significance in Judaism. So, for example, eight Chanukah candles on the last night of the holiday and “two challahs that I braid, fresh for Shabbat, all homemade.”

All books include rhyming and rhythmic prose to make them more fun and interactive.

Each book sells for $13.95. or three for $36. To order and for more information, go to hashemsgems.com.

Colin L. Johnson