Hanukkah Picture Book Roundup

The Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) Ends Tonight

I just couldn’t light the last Hanukkah candle tonight without sharing a few more terrific Hanukkah picture books for 2013. These are three books you’ll want to keep to read again next Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Bear cover art by Mike Wohnoutka

Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka, Holiday House, 2013.

According to the copyright page, Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8, also available as an ebook) first appeared in Cricket, the Magazine for Children in 1988 and as a picture book titled The Chanukkah Guest with illustrations by Giora Carmi, in 1990.

I’m so glad Holiday House decided to bring out this charming book again, this time with a revised text and new artwork. Whether you read this story in the ’80s, ’90s or are reading it now for the first time, it will not disappoint. Grown-ups and kids alike will get such a kick out of the joyful and humourous Hanukkah tale featuring hungry Old Bear just awoken from hibernation to the smells of cooking latkes, and ninety-seven year old Bubba Brayna, a spry old villager who can neither see nor hear well anymore. Expecting the rabbi, Bubba Brayna opens the front door after hearing a thump and mistakes Old Bear for the rabbi. She then proceeds to have him join her as she lights the Menorah, plays a game of dreidel and finally feeds him. Old Bear “Rrrrrumphs” and “Grrrroooowrs” throughout the evening with Bubba Brayna filling in bits of conversation here and there. The sweet cover image of Old Bear licking Bubba Brayna after receiving his lovely red Hanukkah scarf should be a clue to the youngest readers that the story has a delightful ending and only latkes get eaten!! Plus Wohnoutka’s illustrations have a glowing quality about them that add to the warmth of the story. The end pages contain a handy latke recipe and author’s notes about the holiday for those less familiar with the celebration.

Click here for a Hanukkah Bear maze activity.

Sadie's Almost Marvelous Menorah artwork by Julie Fortenberry

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah written by Jamie Korngold with artwork by Julie Fortenberry, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, by Jamie Korngold with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paperback, Ages 2-6), is another fun story for children. Sadie loves school, her teacher Morah Rachel and the approaching holiday of Hanukkah. When Hanukkah arrives she knows she’ll spin dreidels, eat potato latkes with applesauce (my favorite, too!) and light the menorah with her family.  The best part for Sadie is that she and her classmates get to make their very own menorahs from clay. In school she works hard to knead, roll and shape her menorah. Sadie decides to paint hers pink with blue squiggles and can’t wait until Friday when she can bring it home. But when her mother arrives at school to pick her up, Sadie rushes to her and drops the menorah.  The handmade treasure breaks into “a million, zillion pieces!” The clever way Sadie’s mom handles the disaster leads to a new family tradition that  makes for a very happy, unique ending. Fortenberry’s colorful artwork complements the text and conveys just the perfect amount of emotion and detail to help move the story forward. The three candle blessings included in the end are terrific to have especially since our family has only ever known just one to say.

 

Eight is Great artwork by Hideko Takahashi

Eight is Great by Tilda Balsley with artwork by Hideko Takahashi, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013.

For the youngest kids at home, there’s Eight is Great, (Kar-Ben, $5.95, Ages 1-4), by Tilda Balsley with illustrations by Hideko Takahashi, a board book with each page detailing some aspect of Hanukkah incorporating the number eight. Whether it’s eight days and nights to celebrate, or eight candles lit, Balsley finds just the right descriptions in simple rhymes. Of course there are eight places to set at the table and eight latkes to fill the guests’ plates. “There’s more,” says the dad in this family, “don’t hesitate.” Mom helps with eight presents to wrap and for those new to playing dreidel, there are four sides and if you play with two, that makes a total of eight! The story ends, as many a Hanukkah tale does, by remembering “heroes long before us” helping make this picture book complete with just 12 pages. Takahashi’s jewel-toned illustrations light up the board book making this an ideal introduction to the Festival of Lights.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown

Hanukkah in Alaska, by Barbara Brown with illustrations by Stacey Schuett (Henry Holt and Company, $16.99, also available in ebook, ages 4-8 ), is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Hanukkah in Alaska

Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown with illustrations by Stacey Schuett, Henry Holt and Company, 2013.

Living in warm and sunny southern California, I was curious to find out if celebrating Hanukkah is any different in our 49th state. What I learned after reading Hanukkah in Alaska was so interesting that I’m certain your children will feel the same. Illustrator Schuett’s muted tones in her acrylic and gouache artwork set the scene of a freezing, snowy winter where a little girl is peeking outside, “making sure there are no moose around.” That could not be any more different from out here in L.A. where residents’ vigilance is devoted to looking both ways for the ever present automobile. We understand about the snow and the sub-zero temperatures, but with author Brown highlighting the presence of moose from the onset, readers can immediately tell they’re about to read something very unique.

The story unfolds during Hanukkah and centers around a little girl’s concern over the moose who’s taken a liking to her backyard. “He sleeps in our yard and eats our trees.” No matter what she does to try to get him to leave, the big antlered moose continues to inhabit the yard posing a threat to the girl’s blue swing. Why the swing? Because it’s attached to the tree he likes to nibble on. As the little girl narrates the tale, we learn that children in Alaska are taught to be wary of moose in certain situations. When playing outside in winter, if a moose comes along, “we have to hug a tree.” These big powerful creatures can cause tremendous damage with their antlers and their kicks so a child can never be too young to learn. I also learned that people who don’t live in Alaska live “Outside.” And because of its northern location, Alaska has very little daylight in winter making it an ideal environment for moose, but no for worried little girls.

So where does Hanukkah fit into this cold climate? When lighting the menorah every evening, it’s hard for our narrator to ignore the moose outside her window. One night her dad suggests they head outside to look at the night sky. There, spread out before their eyes, the family witnesses an amazing array of colors, “swirling and shining and glowing.” The northern lights or aurora borealis happen “only when the sky is just right.” The dad tells his daughter that they have their very own Hanukkah Festival of Lights. But despite the beautiful distraction, reality clicks in when the moose begins yanking on the swing. Everyone looks on horrified, but suddenly the little girl is struck by a delicious, Hanukkah themed idea for how to get the moose out of the backyard.

The satisfying (in more ways than one) ending to this charming Hanukkah story proves that miracles (like the miracle of Hanukkah itself) come in all shapes and sizes, some even edible!! An end page featuring an Author’s Note explains the phenomena of the northern lights and the history of Hanukkah so that the picture book is both accessible and enjoyable for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers.

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