Review of “Sammy Spider’s First Book of Prayers” by Sylvia A. Rouss

“Sammy Spider's First Book of Prayers” by Sylvia A. Rouss

I wish I had this book when I was getting familiar with Judaism to understand the spirit of the prayers. It is a charming introduction, emphasizing being grateful. I consider that a key element of Judaism, so this book is close to my heart. By “translating” most of the 17 prayers in this book as a kind of thank you note to God it teaches children and anyone who reads it to be appreciative. If the book helps to raise a generation of Jews who are even more grateful, well … I will be grateful for that.

I had my bar-mitzvah when I was 23 and started to familiarize myself with the religion of my ancestors only five years prior. As a young adult I was approaching it mostly with an intellectual curiosity and not necessarily the same way as a child who is 4-9 years old (That’s the target audience according to the book’s inner cover.) The translations of the prayer are very far from literally accurate; hence I had put “translating” in quotation marks above. They are more like interpretations of the prayers’ meaning to words and ideas that young children can understand and Sylvia A. Rouss, the author of more than 20 Sammy Spider books did a great job again. I only felt somewhat off when I saw that the Shema was introduced as a “going-to-sleep” prayer and thus translated as “I feel safe thinking of You, God, as I close my eyes and fall asleep.” The Shema is so much more and invoked in so many other contexts, but I couldn’t have come up with a better way to teach it to younglings.

If you are an American Jew who had (or was) a kid in the last 20 years you most likely consider Sammy Spider an old friend. For everyone else let me tell you that he is a kind and colorful spider who lives at the Shapiro family and a good friend of their son, Josh. Sammy learned, along with Josh, about Jewish holidays, Judaism, Israel and other aspects of life through the 23 (or more?) Sammy Spider books. They were all illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn consistently with cheerful paintings. 

In this volume the prayers are divided into three sections, Daily, Sahbbat and special prayers and each section has its own internal cover too. I enjoyed that all the Shabbat prayers were on white background and giving to those pages a holiday feeling, while the rest is more vivid, often on darker, but not dark) background. On most pages you can read a short introduction to the prayer, when and how it is used – with the added twist of sharing it from Sammy’s (and Josh’s) perspective or experience. It is cute, as usual.

In this current pandemic state of the world the two last prayers jumped at me as really timely. The penultimate prayer for our country asks “God help our leaders treat all people living in our country with kindness and respect.” God knows, we really need this kind of leadership. Oseh Shalom, the last prayer in this book is translated as “‘May God bless people everywhere and may we all live in peace.” This is a prayer I could identify with fervently any time. 

The book will be published on November 1, 2020 and you can already pre-order it at Amazon. 

Publisher’s description:

A first Jewish prayer book introduces children to daily and Shabbat prayers, plus special prayers. Sammy Spider watches Josh Shapiro and his family as they recite standard prayers for a variety of occasions. Engaging, rhyming text explains when and why Josh prays. This giftable book includes the prayers: Modeh Ani, Prayer, Hamotzi, Birkat Hamazon, Sh’ma, Hashkiveinu, Shabbat Blessings, Ye’vare’checha, Havadalah, Shehechiyanu, Mi Sheberach, Tefilat Haderech, A Prayer for our Country, A Prayer for Jerusalem, Mourner’s Kaddish, and Oseh Shalom.

Disclaimer: I have received an electronic copy of this book from Kar-Ben Publishing, the publisher for review.

Year first published: 2020

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