The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales  Reviews


“Hall’s pastel hues warmly fill full pages and there are spot illustrations with scenes and characters from the stories in watercolor, chalk, colored pencil, and digital layering.”

—Jewish Book Council/ Sharon Elswit * Starred Review Link


“Angels in disguise, a riddle-solving queen, a generous lamed-vavnik, and a fowl-minded prince are just a few of the characters found in this delightful collection of Jewish folktales. While far less grim than many offerings in the folklore canon, the eight classic stories presented here, from “Challah in the Ark” to the oft-spun “The Prince Who Thought He Was a Rooster”, are filled with plenty of twists to grab young readers and keep them guessing until all loose ends are stitched and the final kernel of wisdom is unveiled. Gelfand shows a deft touch at keeping the stories well paced, consistently entertaining, and moralistic without being heavy handed. 

It is a book filled with miracles: an illiterate boy sends cut Hebrew letters aloft to form the prayers in his heart; a girl gives a weekly gift to God and thus sustains her family for thirty years. But for anyone who has ever read well-crafted folktales aloud to young children, the real miracle will come in the form of rapt expressions and lessons learned. The book touches on a number of themes, including the joy of sharing, embracing the uniqueness of others, expressing one’s love for God in different ways, and the rewards of kindness. 

Hall’s bright, fanciful, folk-style illustrations—a combination of watercolor ink, chalk pastel, colored pencil, and digital layering—nicely complement each story. Papercuts of story-appropriate images cleverly line the borders of most pages. The book also includes two CDs of Debra Messing (Will and Grace) narrating each story—a bonus for your next long car trip. As Gelfand writes at the end of the first tale, “This is a book of stories to be told from one generation to the next. Tell the stories and pass them on.” Indeed! A wise choice for your Judaic collection.”

—Temple Israel Library, Akron, OH/ Allison Marks


“This engaging collection includes eight delightful tales from Jewish Tradition. Each story has been chosen for its appeal to families and each has a simple and yet powerful message. Written by Rabbi Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand, herself a mother of three, this is a fantastic set of stories to share and treasure.

Each story comes from Jewish folklore tradition and is perfect for sharing as a family. These stories explore many of the questions that challenge all of us. Why do bad things happen to good people? Is it more important to be clever, or kind? What happens to us when we die? This anthology is sure to resonate with children and adults of all faiths.

Illustrator Amanda Hall researched the Jewish art tradition meticulously as she created her illustrations. It was her idea to use a paper cut motif along the borders of some of the pages, as this is a classic and traditional Jewish craft.

For British Reform Jews it is especially exciting to know that Rabbi Shoshana, since stepping down from being the Chief Executive of the Movement for Reform Judaism, and while carrying the important task of leading JHub, has been able to produce this outstanding book for children, which was launched with big fanfares at the newly opened JW3 on October 17.”

—Hendon Reform Synagogue’s Magazine/ LR


“Amanda Hall illustrates the book in great, boisterous color”

—The New York Times/ Sunday Book Review/ Taffy Brodesser-Akner


‘This is a beautifully imagined book.’

—Jewish Lisa Silverman


“There is a considerably lighter feel to the equally handsome but thematically jollier pages of “The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales”, written by Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, an English rabbi. Here, eight stories drawn from sources that range from the Bible to 19th-century Poland are told in eventful, stand-alone chapters that make for excellent reading aloud to children ages 6 and older … Amanda Hall’s inviting illustrations of rabbis, palaces, fruits and challah loaves have such soft edges and delicious colors that they might be made of marzipan.”

—Wall Street Journal/ Meghan Gurdon


“These eight tales from the Jewish tradition offer simple yet compelling messages. The virtues of prayer ar  compared to stories; Elijah the prophet explains his wisdom to an ordinary mortal; an illiterate boy finds that his good intentions are sufficient for God; a king learns to listen and accept his unusual son; a young woman offers her bread-making skills to God; an elderly woman views the difference between heaven and hell; a wise wife helps her husband comprehend her loyalty; and a king realizes that flaws are a part of life.

Gelfand’s language is simple and direct, and she appends her tales with explanations of the Jewish signsand symbols cited and a list of story sources. Hall’s elegant full-color art suggests an Eastern European setting, and each tale includes distinctive borders, spot art, and occasional full-page spreads. The package also includes a CD with Debra Messing reading the stories. A perfect choice for sharing with young families, this will also be welcomed by religious school libraries.”

—Booklist/ Kay Weisman


“Eight popular Jewish stories get a fun new voice in this print and audio retelling … Mixed-media illustrations by Hall (The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau) accompany the collection and help bring it to vivid life. Actress Debra Messing provides audio narration on an accompanying CD that might be especially welcome at bedtime. Children and adults of all faiths will enjoy reading these stories and appreciate the universal lifelong lessons within. Ages 7–up.”

—Publisher’s Weekly — Link


Judaism’s long tradition of teaching through storytelling is affirmed in these eight tales steeped in ethics, morality and belief.

The fluidly told, extended narratives reflect mostly the Eastern European or Hasidic canon. Some will be familiar, as they appear in other collections or picture-book versions. Behavior and personal choice is the theme of the parable “The Prince Who Thought He Was a Rooster,” which was also seen in Ann Redisch Stampler and Eugene Yelchin’s The Rooster Prince of Breslov (2010). “Challah in the Ark” recalls Aubrey Davis and Dusan Petricic’s tale of generosity, Bagels from Benny (2003). And Debby Waldman’s 2009 version of Clever Rachel is echoed in the story of the same title, with its message of coupling kindness with intelligent cooperation. Others, such as “The Boy Who Prayed the Alphabet” and “Elijah’s Wisdom,” will be valued for their simple messages of heartfelt belief and justice based on proper action. The folkloric narrative style often employs the familiar European motif of “three,” delivering the plots with a patient tone and rabbinical perspective. The accompanying CD presents actress Debra Messing’s readings, her calm, mellifluous voice bringing out each story’s essence. Similarly, each tale’s tenor is individually enhanced through intrinsic borders and paintings created in watercolor ink, pastel, pencil crayon and digital layering.
A lovely collection that will inspire both discussion and contemplation. 
—Kirkus Review


“This collection includes eight tales from the Jewish tradition; tales which are relevant to all of us, regardless of belief, because the questions it explores are relevant to us all.  Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand is a mother of three, so she knows just what appeals to families … Amanda Hall’s illustrations have been beautifully crafted with reference to Jewish traditions and they complement the feel of the book perfectly. The section at the end on signs and symbols helps our understanding of Jewish traditions.”

—Parents in Touch


Jewish Tales author Shoshana Boyd Gelfand speaks to Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. 

—Pause for thought/ Shoshana Boyd Gelfand on Firm Foundations — Link


“beautifully illustrated, and delightfully narrated on the accompanying CDs- …“

—Amazon/ Josh Grossman * Starred Review — Link


“Each of the eight beautifully illustrated and magically told stories mesmerized my children (ages 6 year old)”

—Amazon/ Leebie * Starred Review


“Wonderful stories, beautiful illustrations

This is really one of those classic children’s books which is elevated beyond words by the clever and sophisticated artwork, which bring together the essential meaning of each story with subtle colour and images.”

—Amazon/ Avid Reader * Starred Review — Link