Hooray for Hanukkah! New Kids’ Books for the Festival of Lights

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THE BEST NEW
CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH

 

 

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel cvr imageThe Itsy Bitsy Dreidel
Written by Jeffrey Burton & Chani Tornow
Illustrated by Sanja Rešček
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.

Way Too Many Latkes cover imageWay Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm
Written by Linda Glaser
Illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3-8)

I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the  humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!

Little Red Ruthie A Hanukkah Tale cover imageLittle Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Gloria Koster
Illustrated by Sue Eastland
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas picture book cover imageQueen of the Hanukkah Dosas
Written by Pamela Ehrenberg
Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.

Dreidel Dog Mensch pets in box from Mensch on a Bench pkg image

 

Dreidel Dog
(www.themenschonabench.com; $19.99, Ages 3 and up)

Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.

 

Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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The Seder Must Go On!

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The Passover Lamb (Random House, Books for Young Readers, $17.99, ages 6-9) is an upbeat Passover story based on a true event from author Linda Elovitz Marshall and one I found particularly touching. This heartwarming, unique tale features sweet yet subdued watercolor illustrations from Tatjana Mai-Wyss and is sure to be a story families will want to return to each Passover holiday

9780375971068As Miriam checks on the farm animals before it’s time for the family seder at her grandparents’ house, she notices that Snowball the sheep is not acting like herself. Miriam’s parents realize that Snowball’s woolly coat must have hidden her pregnancy and though late in the season for a birth, it appears Snowball is due any moment.

It’s not long before Snowball gives birth to three little lambs, but her milk can only accommodate two. While Miriam worries about the hungry rejected lamb she’s in a quandary as to what to do.  She’s finally mastered The Four Questions which the youngest child (when able to) recites in Hebrew and is eager for her turn. The questions – why do we eat matzoh, eat bitter herbs, dip our vegetables twice in salted water and dine while reclining – are a major component of the Passover seder, the answers being explanations as to why this night is different than all other nights. But how can she leave the abandoned lamb on its own?

It seems the decision is made for her when Miriam’s father announces the family will have to hold their own seder to be able to care for the new lamb, but Miriam is determined to find a solution to please everyone. She fittingly finds inspiration from the tale of baby Moses’s rescue and applies it to her very own situation. The end result is truly satisfying: a saved seder with the grandparents all because of one bright little girl.

Find out more about the author by reading this wonderful interview by Barbara Krasner.

Read about other recommended Good Reads With Ronna Passover books from previous years at these links:

A Sweet Passover  

A Tale of Two Seders 

Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim  

The Yankee at the Seder  

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


A Passover Tale

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Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim from Kar-Ben Publishing is written by Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Jago. Today’s Guest Reviewers are L.A. Parent calendar editor Michael Berick and his 6-year-old daughter Julia. A first grader, Julia enjoys reading (especially Harry Potter), creating art and making up characters.

michaeljulia

The book Nachson, Who Was Afraid To Swim tells the story of a young Jewish boy (Nachshon) back in the days when Jews were slaves in the land of Egypt. Few things scared young Nachshon, not even the Pharaoh, so people started calling him “Brave Nachshon.” However, he does have one major fear – that is going into the water. Later, as a young man, Nachshon meets the prophet Moses and listening to his words changes Nachshon’s life.

The book nicely tells both the bible-based tale of Nachshon’s role in the Jews’ exodus from Egypt as well as the more universal story of facing one’s fears. This is not a particularly well-known Passover tale so non-Jews might not be that familiar with it; however, its story of courage speaks to everyone.

Julia liked the book and was glad that there’s “no Pharaohs to rule over us now.” The part of the book she liked the best was (and this is a spoiler alert) when Nachshon jumped into the water at the book’s end. The slightly stylized 978-0-8225-8764-4_medillustrations, which somewhat recall Allison Jay’s drawings, suggest ancient times without seeming old-fashion. Julia liked the illustrations at the book’s end where you could see people’s reflections in the water. Julia also thought that it would be a good book to be read to kids ages 3-7, and I would agree with that. While it might not be the best way to introduce the story of Passover to young readers, it is a fine way to teach children about overcoming fears.