Happy Hanukkah, everyone! I’ve been browsing a lot of lists, and found some books for the season to share with you. There aren’t nearly as many Hanukkah or Kwanzaa books as there are Christmas books, so most of these are not brand spankin’ new, but I’m still excited to spread the joy of the season with everyone. Let’s dig in.
All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, by Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky, (Sept. 2018, Schwartz & Wade Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399554193
Based on the All-of-a-Kind Family series of books (1951-1958) by Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah celebrates Hanukkah with the All-of-a-Kind Family in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th Century. Four-year old sister, Gertie, is desperate to be part of the Hanukkah preparation, but Mama says she’s just too young to help make the latkes: she can get hurt by the potato peeler, cut herself with the knife, and get splattered by the hot oil. Frustrated, Gertie yells and stomps her feet, which earns her some thinking time in the girls’ bedroom; but Papa comes home and gives Gertie a very special Hanukkah task, and the family – Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, Papa, Mama, and Uncle Hyman – enjoy their first night of Hanukkah meal together.
I haven’t read Sydney Taylor’s series since I was in grade school, but All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah brought me right back to the warm feeling of family I always had, reading these books. Paul O. Zelinsky’s artwork wonderfully sets the tone for the story, with a look at the lower east side’s crushed together tenement buildings and bustling city streets. He captures little Gertie’s spirit on every page, whether she’s dancing through the snow, placing herself in the middle of holiday preparation, or communicating her frustration at being too young to be part of the action. Bold lines and warm colors draw readers right in, and intimate family moments, like Gertie being held by her sisters or Papa holding his daughter after a long day (for both of them), bring all the love from their family to yours. I love the humorous moments, like Papa searching for Gertie as she’s hiding under the bed, asking a pillow or library book where his daughter is; it’s a sweet twist on the whole “wait ’til your father gets home!” business, and it reveals a playful nature in this family. Emily Jenkins has fully realized the family dynamic here, and Paul Zelinsky gives them life.
Back matter includes a glossary, an author note putting the story into historical context and her own relationship with Sydney Taylor’s books. An illustrator note talks about Paul Zelinsky’s deliberate decisions when making choices for the story’s artwork. There’s also a link to extra back matter, including downloadable coloring pages, educator resources, and a latke recipe.
An essential addition to your holiday collections, and a comforting storytime read. All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and has been written up by The New York Times and the Jewish Book Council.
Grover’s Eight Nights of Light, by Jodie Shepard/Illustrated by Joe Mathieu, (Sept. 2017, Random House), $6.99, ISBN: 9781524720735
Hanukkah is coming to Sesame Street, and Grover is so excited! He and his Mommy decorate their home and open it up to their friends for the next eight days and nights. Grover’s Eight Nights of Light explains Hanukkah rituals to younger readers, from the shamash candle (the helper candle that lights the candles in the menorah) to the story of Judah Maccabee and the Hanukkah miracle. Some big Sesame Street names pop up here: Cookie Monster shows up and discovers that latkes are the same shape as cookies: what could be wrong with that?; Oscar the Grouch likes watching the dreidel fall over; Elmo and Abby arrive with gifts, the Bear family drops by to celebrate and trade gifts, Prairie Dawn sings a song with Grover, and Bert and Ernie accompany Grover and his mom to the food pantry on tzedakah night, when they perform an act of charity. Big Bird and Grover talk patterns of color candles in the menorah, and what would an 8-night holiday be without Count von Count? On the last night of Hanukkah, Grover and his Mommy have a party for everyone, and readers are invited to throw their own: the book includes stickers and a poster for a Pin the Candle on the Menorah game.
Sesame Street is synonymous with diversity and representation, and Grover’s Eight Nights of Light is a fun book that informs with love. The kids’ favorite characters are here, and present the history of Hanukkah in a child-friendly, accessible way. If you’ve got PBS/Sesame fans in your life, this is a great little gift to tuck into your gift bag for one of those eight nights. (Librarians, save the stickers and poster for programs; your book will last a little longer that way, too.)
From Joe Mathieu’s webpage
Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, by Eric A. Kimmel/Illustrated by Matthew Trueman, (Sept. 2014, Disney/Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781423143550
A tale of miracles follows Simon, a Russian boy, who leaves home and heads to America in search of a better life. Once he secures a job, he’ll send for his mother, brothers, and sisters. But the ship hits and iceberg, and Simon saves a man’s life by switching places in a lifeboat with him. He’s marooned on an iceberg on the first night of Hanukkah, with only his menorah, candles, matches, and some food, which he shares with a polar bear who happens by. Over the next few days, Simon and the bear shares freshly caught fish with him and keeps him warm at night, while he lights Hanukkah candles and tells her stories. He reflects on the seven miracles he’s experienced so far, and prays for just one more: to be rescued and make it to America. Simon’s optimism pays off, and he’s rescued; reunited with the man whose life he saved, he discovers that there’s one extra Hanukkah miracle in store for him – just like the menorah has one extra candle.
Simon and the Bear pairs historical storytelling with a touch of holiday magic: and isn’t that the best kind? Matthew Trueman’s artwork, a combination of collage, crushed paper cutouts and acrylics, creates a textured story that comes to life as readers turn the pages. Icy blue shades add a little bit of chill to Simon’s marooning, but his ever-present knit red hat and the warm glow of the Hanukkah candles adds the optimism and warmth we all need. His family wears traditional Russian clothing for the time period, all in warm colors, really bringing the family together. Endpapers show a cold, clear, starry sky.
A cheerful story about optimism and the power of a good deed, and a nice addition to shelves and collections. An author’s note offers a brief explanation of the holiday. Simon and the Bear has a starred review from Kirkus.
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, (Sept. 2012, Alfred A. Knopf), $16.99, ISBN: 9780375860935
A little girl has the best of both worlds: she’s a “mix of two traditions. From Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama”, in this lovable story about blending holiday traditions. Little Sadie and her family decorate their home for the holidays, leaving latkes out for Santa and hanging candy canes on the menorah, and sing Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs as they go caroling. The last night of Hanukkah is a big night, as Daddy stuffs a turkey with cranberry kugle and Mama makes sweet jelly donuts and fruitcakes for dessert. The families celebrate together, retelling the stories of both the miracle of the oil and the birth in the manger: “Wide-eyed, we listen to these traditional tales, which link us together today”. When everyone’s gone home, the family relaxes together and shares final gifts, getting ready to do it all again next year.
Selina Alko evokes big holiday feelings and childhood excitement here. Her gouache, collage, and colored pencil on watercolor paper artwork is bold and colorful, contributing to the excitement and anticipation of the holidays, and she brings Judeo-Christian traditions together with fun and childlike joy. A timeline at the end of the story illustrates all the holidays Sadie and her family celebrate together, from Hanukkah/Christmas (Kwanzaa gets a mention, but the family here is white) through to Easter and Passover, and Thanksgiving. Endpapers are colorful portraits of Sadie and her parents, and include icons for each holiday: a dreidel and a menorah, a tree and an angel. Inspired by the author and her husband’s decision to integrate each of their religious backgrounds into their home for the holidays, Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama is a lovely addition to holiday collections and storytimes.How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Mark Teague, (Sept. 2012, Blue Sky Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0545416771
Those misbehaving dinosaurs are here to demonstrate what to do – and what NOT to do – during Chanukah! We see Rugops fuss through prayer and Nodosaurs blow out menorah lights while Ichtyostega writes his own name on everyone’s gift cards and Chirostenotes grabs all the gelt, all while horrified parents bear witness. But we know that’s not really what dinosaurs do when they celebrate Hanukkah. Camarasaurus shows readers that dinosaurs sing every prayer, and Chirostenotes is sharing the gelt and taking turns with the dreidel. Dinosaurs give Bubbie and Zaida holiday kisses, and then head off to bed.
I remember reading the first book in this series – How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight (2000) – when my eldest was barely a year old; these books have become a touchstone in kids’ lives, with books to celebrate everything from managing emotions to table manners. Having Dinosaurs celebrate the holidays is just a natural addition to this series. The rhyming pattern is soothing and consistent through each book, and the dinosaurs are always drawn as larger-than-life goofballs having larger-than-life emotions: which is kind of what it’s like, being a kid. Different facets of the holiday get the spotlight, including latkes, gifts, lighting menorahs, and prayers.
Plus, kids love dinosaurs. So, home run. This series does well wherever it lives, so why not add to it?
Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, (Sept. 2012, HMH Books for Young Readers), $7.99, ISBN: 9780547757315
Six short rhyming stories show readers how Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat celebrate Hanukkah with friends. Each story, tabbed for little fingers to turn quickly to, looks at a different moment in the eighth night celebration: George and his friend wrap gifts and head out visiting; they arrive and the party begins; the Man in the Yellow Hat (with his hat respectfully off) lights the menorah, George and the children spin the dreidel, George tries to help makes latkes; George and the kids play; and finally, George does a mitzvah by cleaning up and packing up some latkes to take to a sick friend.
Illustrated in the classic Curious George style we all know and love, and with a shiny, silver foil cover, Happy Hanukkah, Curious George is a good add to toddler holiday collections. The book and tabs are in shades of blue and yellow, with colorful Hanukkah symbols on each tab, and Curious George is one of the most recognizable children’s icons in literature. His familiarity will draw in readers, and the rhyming cadence is perfect for storytime reading.
Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah, by Tilda Balsley/Illustrated by David Harrington, (Sept. 2010, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 9780761345077
Maccabee! is the historical Hanukkah story, made into a rhyming epic tale for younger readers. The polytheist Greeks and their leader, King Antiochus, weren’t happy that the Jews refused to bow to their gods, and decided to desecrate their holy ground, raise statues of their gods, and force the people into worship. Mattathias, an elder, turned to his sons, his son Judah, in particular, for support in raising a resistance. Judah led his army of Maccabees against Antiochus’ armies until they won, and then lead his people in rebuilding their civilization, devastated by war. An epilogue asks readers what Judah would do if he were alive today, and posits that he’d be pretty happy that his people are still thriving.
This is a very readable, child-friendly history of the struggle behind the celebration of Hanukkah. The rhyme scheme is simple and easily falls into pattern for a readaloud. A repeated phrase, “Sometimes it only takes a few, Who know what’s right, and do it, too”, brings home the message embodied by the Maccabees: see the need to do the right thing, and do it. It takes bravery, it takes strength, and it takes determination; here, the Maccabees model the behavior and inspire readers.
The artwork is bright, with a realistic cartoon feel: think of Judah Maccabee like a buff superhero. The spreads are full-bleed and colorful, with movement across the pages to keep little eyes engaged. Back matter includes a brief backgrounder on the festival of Hanukkah. This one’s a fun addition to holiday collections; it’s more history-based, yet still includes the focus on family that is central to the celebration.
My First Chanukah, by Tomie DePaola, (Sept. 2008, Grosset & Dunlap), $5.99, ISBN: 9780448448596
Tomie DePaola has a sweet board book that uses simple language and his immediately recognizable watercolor artwork to explain Chanukah to babies and toddlers. My First Chanukah simply and eloquently explains why families light candles (“to remember Judah Maccabee and his brothers”) and how the menorah is lit each night; he makes sure to cover latkes (“delicious potato pancakes”) and the dreidel, gelt, presents, and songs and prayers. He closes, reminding readers that they’ll celebrate again next year.
My First Chanukah covers the kid-friendly parts of Hanukkah: food, family, goodies, and together time. His illustrations are warm and intimate, with a welcoming glow from the menorahs and a smiley baby with its family. It’s a great pick to have in your board book collections, and a perfect storytime choice for the holiday.
That’s it for my first Hanukkah round-up! I’ve got a few more holds waiting to come in, so I hope to have at least one more post before the holiday is over. Happy Hanukkah, everyone!