BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
A Roundup by Ronna Mandel
Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy Husband
(Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4)
An array of adorable animals including a bunny family celebrate Hanukkah in this cheerfully illustrated 12-page board book. Hanukkah Delight! offers a rollicking rhyming read for the littlest ones on your holiday list as it details all the joyous events leading up to and during the Festival of Lights such as:
Friends and neighbors to invite,
Ancient blessings we recite.
Gleaming candles burning bright,
Crispy latkes taste just right.
A Hanukkah With Mazel
Written by Joel Edward Stein
Illustrated by Elisa Vavouri
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, $6.99 eBook, Ages 3-8)
Debut picture book author, Joel Edward Stein, introduces readers to Misha, a kindly but poor artist who discovers a hungry cat in his barn that he names Mazel (Hebrew/Yiddish meaning luck). Misha share the little bit of milk he has with his new feline friend and together the companions celebrate the start of Hanukkah. Despite having no money to Hanukkah candles, the artist comes up with a clever way to light the menorah. He’ll paint the candles on a canvas! Soon he even runs low on paints, but not before reaching the eighth and final night of the holiday. Just then a peddler arrives and, as fate would have it, he turns out to be Mazel’s owner. But rather than reclaim his pet, this beneficent traveling merchant has a plan to make everyone happy while delivering some much needed Hanukkah luck. Vavouri’s watercolor illustrations, convey a folkloric feel while also accurately depicting Misha’s hand-to-mouth existence in an old Eastern European Jewish community called Grodno. Written with care, A Hanukkah With Mazel is flawless storytelling that is beautifully presented. It’s not only heartwarming with its surprise happy ending, but certain to become a timeless treasure for families to return to every holiday season.
Yitzi and the Giant Menorah
Written and illustrated by Richard Ungar
(Tundra Books; $16.99, Ages 5-9)
The townspeople of Chelm, a storied village from Jewish folklore, wonder how they should properly thank the Mayor of Lublin after receiving the gift of a giant menorah on Hanukkah eve. Although everyone seems to have an idea that befits the prestige of mayor, nothing ends up turning out well. Latkes that are cooked for the mayor get eaten before they’re even given to him, pristine Chelm snow melts into water, and a beautifully carved dreidel points Yitzi’s father Avrum in the wrong direction so that he never makes it to Lublin! While all this is playing out over the first seven nights of Hanukkah, no one is paying attention to Yitzi who believes he has figured out the ideal way to thank the Mayor. When at last all options are exhausted, Yitzi’s thoughtful idea is a treat for everyone to behold, especially the Mayor of Lublin. There, atop a steep hill, the frail old man had to stop when he heard music floating in the air from afar and dancing lights shone in the night sky. “Something on a distant hill filled his heart with joy.” Between the easy to follow story (its variety of interesting characters makes it a terrific read-aloud) and the vibrant water color and colored pencil artwork, Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a welcome addition to the Hanukkah books available for families to enjoy.
For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.
A MOTHER’S DAY ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS
One of my favorite holidays is Mother’s Day. I get to kick my feet up, relax, and get spoiled for several blissful hours. Okay, who am I kidding? That actually doesn’t really happen chez moi, but that’s not what Mother’s Day is about anyway, is it? Love is really at the core of this special day. Let’s look at some picture books that celebrate all kinds of moms in all kinds of ways, because no mom is the same and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Are You My Mommy? by Mary Murphy (Candlewick; $6.99, Ages 0-3) – This lift-the-flaps board book features an adorable little light blue collared puppy meeting lots of different animals as he asks, “Are you my mommy?” Naturally, each animal encountered replies no and explains what animal he is. “No, I’m a sheep.” The reveal is each animal’s own special baby, from a lamb to a calf, a foal and a kitten, a piglet and a duckling until the most lovely surprise, the puppy’s mommy, a purple collared dog. As little ones enjoy the colorful illustrations done in mixed media with bold black outlines, they’ll learn new words and have fun lifting all the die-cut flaps.
Mom School by Rebecca Van Slyke with illustrations by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – What a clever idea, a school for moms! I sure could have used a class or two at this place because, while I may be great at cutting and gluing like the little girl narrating this charming story, I never had a lesson in the cool kinds of classes she imagines her mom attended. There’s the essential learning how to grocery shop without losing your child class. There’s pitching 101 so moms can toss a ball that’s easy to hit. And of course, we can’t leave out the ever popular, and delicious, cupcake baking course. Here’s one of my faves, and it’s got to be called Mom’s Mandatory Multi-tasking:
At Mom School, they learn how to do more than one thing at a time,
like talking on the phone and fixing my hair, and making dinner while
listening to a song I just made up.
Mom School is a sweet, positive picture book not just for Mother’s Day because the skills moms acquire at this school are utilized throughout the year. The adorable, humorous pastel-toned artwork by Burris is expressive and cheerful. Kids are going to enjoy thinking of other classes that their moms are likely to have attended and perhaps, inspired by Van Slyke’s words and Burris’ illustrations, they can try their hand at drawing their own pictures to show all the neat things moms know.
If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7) – is such an imaginative, beautiful picture book. “If your mom were a bird,” it says on the book’s back cover, “what kind of bird would she be?” There is not a lot of text in this picture book, but the economy of words works wonderfully because the type of bird each child imagines their mother would be is perfectly presented in the artwork.
If my mom were a bird, she would surely be a watchful … hawk.
The watercolor illustrations on the pages feel crisp, joyful and complement the traits the kids have chosen,
Interior artwork from If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books, ©2015.
capturing the mood without a lot of description.
Interior artwork from If My Mom Were a Bird by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books, ©2015.
As with Mom School, If My Mom Were a Bird is a year round story, but also just right to share on Mother’s Day.
Two other terrific picture books I’d like to recommend are:
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman with illustrations by Laura Cornell (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7) – This is a brand-new edition of the modern classic. And for Mother’s Day, what’s better than having one mom? Having two!! There are many different kinds of families and the family depicted in Heather Has Two Mommies is a family unit made up of two moms, no dad. What counts in families is not being just like every other family, but being loved.
Pete the Cat: Rock on, Mom and Dad! by James Dean (HarperFestival; $6.99, Ages 4-8) – Kids who are crazy about the cat will go wild for this paperback which includes 30 stickers, a fold-out poster and cards. How does a grateful cat say thank you to his parents for all they do? How can he show them how much he loves them? His big, smart brother Bob tells him,
“It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it.”
And in a classic example of actions speaking louder than words, Pete composes a song and plays it for his parents. He rocks it out of the park and right into their hearts.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
A Sweet Passover by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by David Slonim ($16.95, Abrams Book for Young Readers, ages 4 and up) is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
I adore all things Passover and all things matzah, the unleavened bread we eat for eight days during this Jewish holiday. The book, upbeat and educational, will help children learn in a deliciously untraditional approach to this very traditional celebration. The artwork, while not elaborate, conveys all the necessary emotions needed to supplement such a colorful story in a delightful way.
Miriam, the main character, loves being with her parents, and relatives for the Seder, or feast. These Seders take place two nights, and an important ritual is to read aloud from the Haggadah, the book that tells the story of Passover. We relive history about the Jews’ exodus from Pharaoh’s rule to always remember how Moses led his people to freedom. When the Israelites, or Jews fled to cross the Red Sea, their departure was in such haste there was no time for the bread dough to rise! This year, Miriam eats just a bit too much matzah and can only be coaxed to try more when her Grandpa introduces her to a unique type of French toast known as matzah brei they will make together. There’s a terrific recipe included (see below), an author’s note and a glossary of Yiddish terms used.
The Best Matzah Brei in the World (as told to the author by her father)
This is a fun meal to make with the help of an adult. Always make sure an adult helps you when you are cutting items and using the stove or other hot surface.
This recipe makes one large matzah brei.
7 pieces of matzah
¼ cup milk
pinch of salt (optional)
2 tbsp butter
toppings such as applesauce, sugar and cinnamon, maple syrup, sour cream, and salt and pepper
Large mixing bowl
Small mixing bowl
2 large plates
fork or whisk
Break up seven pieces of matzah into small pieces and soak in warm water in the large bowl for one minute. Then drain by covering the bowl with a large plate and tipping it to let the excess water run out.
Using the fork or whisk, beat three eggs together in the small bowl with the milk and a pinch of salt (optional), and then add this mixture to the crumbled, drained matzah. Mix together well.
In a large frying pan, melt the butter.
Pour the matzah brei mixture into the frying pan. Spread it out evenly so that it resembles a large pancake. Cover and cook over a very low heat for about ten minutes, until crisp and brown on one side (raise the edge of the matzah brie with a spatula to check if it’s crisp and brown).
When the matzah brei is cooked on one side, turn it over by placing the other large plate over the pan and then flipping the whole thing over. While the matzah brei is on the plate, add more butter to the frying pan, if necessary. Then slide the matzah brei from the plate back into the pan to cook the other side. Again, cover and cook over very low heat for about ten minutes.
When the second side of the matzah brei is crisp and brown, it is done. Cut into wedges and serve with applesauce, sugar and cinnamon, maple syrup, sour cream, or salt and pepper. Essen In gezunt!