Book Giving Day -Handa’s Surprise & That’s a Mitzvah

“In the United Kingdom, one-third of children do not own books.” A quote from

As a child, I loved books, I would read my favourites again and again, find quiet corners of the house to read in and at one point had to replace a book shelf that was sagging under the weight of all my books. To hear that so many children are without even one makes my heart sad.

One of the first things I discovered after starting this blog was International Book Giving Day that takes place on the 14th of February. This is an initiative to give children books, a simple and brilliant plan.

I have started teaching my eldest son about tzedakah, a Jewish practice of giving to those less fortunate than yourself. It is sometimes referred to as acts of charity but the actual meaning is to do with making the world fair. So, what better way to do this than on Book Giving Day, we are lucky to own a lot of books but we know that one third of children own none.

I was really keen to find a way to get some books directly to children who don’t have any. But this is trickier than it sounds, all the children I know are lucky enough to own books. After some research online I phoned a local charity that collects for a refuge, they need children’s clothes and toys for those they home who come with nothing. They told me they would love to accept a donation of books too, great!

So, the day before Book Giving Day I went to the charity bookshop with my two boys to pick out some books. I spoke to my bigger boy first, explaining that we weren’t buying anything for us. That we are very lucky to have lots of lovely things but some children don’t have as many things and some have no books at all. He is starting to understand more and more and was happy to pick some books out for others (he also emjoyed having a look through lots of the books in the shop).

We tried to get a good mix for different age groups and some non fiction as well as story books. I found some books that I remember enjoying and bigger boy found some he likes too. Here’s what we settled on:

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, illustrated by Tomi Ungerer
The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes
The Twits by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Harry Potter and the Philiosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling
Emergency! by Margaret Mayo, illustrated by Alex Ayliffe
The Queen’s Knickers written and illustrated by Nicholas Allan
Horrible Science – Ugly Bugs by Nick Arnold, illustrated by Tony De Saulles
My Best Book of Knights and Castles 
by Deborah Murrell illustrations by Chris Molan and Mark Bergin


The charity can only take donations during the week so we will deliver them after Book Giving Day.

Earlier this week we also donated a book to the campaign #1000blackgirlbooks. A few weeks ago I read about an 11 year old girl in the USA called Marley Dias. She had become frustrated at the lack of diversity in her school’s reading selection, with too many books about “white boys and their dogs”. So she started a campaign – 1000 black girl books. Her aim was to collect 1000 books where black girls are the central character and donate them to a school in Jamaica where her mother grew up. Her book drive has attracted so much attention that she has exceeded her target of 1000 so she is continuing to donate the extra books to school libraries in the US. You can read more about her and her campaign here

This is such a great campaign, it is so important to represent diversity in children’s books, and amazing work by an 11 year old too! I wanted to do something to support it so we ordered a copy of Handa’s Surprise, written and illustrated by Eileen Browne to be sent straight to the campaign in the states.

Published by Walker Books, the book follows a girl in Africa, Handa, as she sets out to visit her friend Akeyo in the next village. She is taking her a basket full of different fruits but on the way she slowly loses each one to some sneaky and hungry animals. Handa is none the wiser and can’t understand how the contents of her basket have changed once she reaches Akeyo. Every page is beautifully illustrated with rich and colourful paintings that bring the story to life.


What’s really lovely about this book is how well the story is contained in the pictures. It allows the child to tell the story themselves even if they are too young to read it. My three year old was able to tell me part of the story where a goat runs into a tree just from looking at the pictures. Of course you can choose to do this with any book but this one guides you do it, brilliant for developing a little one’s early reading skills.


I have used this story as part of my curriculum before as a teacher and there are so many activities you can draw from it – counting, matching, tasting fruits, role play, small world play… the list goes on! My boy loved the animals and took a sharp intake of breath each time he saw one pinching the fruit. At the back of the book is a lovely illustration of all the animals in a line, after we’d finished reading he liked looking at these pictures and naming them all.

As Marley Dias rightly pointed out, there is a huge gap in children’s books that reflect different cultures. As a Jewish family, we find it hard to find children’s books that represent us but we are very lucky to receive a book each month from PJ library. This is an organisation that provides books about Judaism to children absolutely free. One book we have received from them is That’s a Mitzvah by Liz Suneby and Diane Heiman, illustrated by Laurel Molk and published by Jewish Lights Publishing.


A mitzvah is something that Jewish people are commanded to do but is often used to describe a good deed. This rhyming tale describes some of the mitzvot (plural) with the help of a group of friendly animals. They bounce through this book helping, sharing and looking after those who need it. My bigger boy likes looking at the animals on each page and pointing out what they’re doing. Each page ends with the same line “That’s a… that’s a… that’s a mitzvah.” Repetition like this is always great for young children as they can quickly pick up how each page ends and shout it out. It helps them be a part of the story-telling and we know that repetition is great for helping them learn. We have read this book a good few times and the word mitzvah is in our every day vocabulary. So it was a perfect one to go to to help my bigger boy understand why we were buying books for others.


I’ve loved following International Book Giving Day and seeing all the different ways people all over the world have joined in. We’re looking forward to next year already.

Read With Me

10 thoughts on “Book Giving Day -Handa’s Surprise & That’s a Mitzvah

Add yours

  1. How great that your children chose books to give to others. I can’t believe that a third of UK children don’t own a book! That’s terrible.


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