Best Hanukkah Books 2016 – A Roundup

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A Roundup by Ronna Mandel


Hanukkah Delight!
Hanukkah Delight by Leslea Newman book coverWritten 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 MazelA Hanukkah With Mazel by Joel Edward Epstein
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 cover imageYitzi 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.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.

Mo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton – Picture Book Review

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Mo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton

“Everybody looks better with a mustache…Especially monsters.”


Mo’s Mustache, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton, is published by Tundra Books.

“Huzzah!” cries Mo, when he receives a big, black, beautiful mustache in the mail. As soon as he dons his snazzy new lip accoutrement, wacky trouble ensues. Now all the adorable monsters want their own mustache!  Mo’s Mustache (Tundra Books, $17.95, ages 3-7), written and illustrated by Ben Clanton, will have young readers eager to sprout facial hair, or at least wiggle a finger across their upper lips.

If you have ever heard a pouting child declare, “Don’t copy me!” you must read this funny, charming picture book.  Clanton’s wonderfully expressive little monsters just can’t help but admire Mo’s new look, so each acquires their own unique mustache. While imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Mo no longer feels special.

Sample interior artwork from Mo’s Mustache, by Ben Clanton from Tundra Books, 2013.

Sample interior artwork from Mo’s Mustache, by Ben Clanton from Tundra Books, 2013.

Clanton’s illustrations are “rendered in watercolor and ink using a mustache as a brush” according to the copyright page, and printed on a thick, softly splattered stock with an upscale recycled appearance.  As a special treat, the book jacket unfolds into a two foot long illustrated poster titled “Mo’s Mustache Manual: The Essential Guide to Mustache Maintenance.”

Kids will giggle throughout Mo’s quest to maintain his sense of style and individuality while staying one fashion-forward step ahead of the other monsters. Funny expressions like “Murf” and “Booyah!” are captured in floating speech bubbles that encourage reader participation. Mo’s Mustache is sure to bring many laughs and requests to “read it again!”

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey


Hats Off (or On) to Imagination!

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ZingerThe title of this book is what made me so curious that I just had to delve in.

There’s just a nice ring to “Mr. Zinger’s Hat,” don’t you agree? Well, Mr. Zinger’s Hat ($17.95, Tundra books, Ages 4 and up), written by Cary Fagan, is a story about Leo, a boy whose ball knocks a hat off an old man’s head – Mr. Zinger’s head of course.

The hat blows around the school courtyard in the wind, as do the words on the page. When Leo gets hold of the hat, old man Zinger invites the boy to sit with him for a while. Mr. Zinger convinces Leo that there is a story inside that hat that needs to come out. So the old man starts to tell a story and cleverly gets the boy to use his imagination to add his own details and help shape the outcome. After Mr. Zinger leaves the boy to write a story of his own back in his office, Leo befriends a girl who happens by. You’ll have to read the story to find out how Leo shares with the girl what he learned from Mr. Zinger.

What’s nice about this book is that it inspires young children to use their imaginations. There’s also a subtle, yet valuable lesson to be learned in the story Leo creates with the old man.  You’ll enjoy the imaginative illustrations, too, by award-winning illustrator, Dusan Petricic, that truly enhance this unusual story.

Creativity is an essential part of childhood and of life. So if you are looking for a book to stir your child’s imagination, I suggest you look inside Mr. Zinger’s Hat.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

You Be You and I’ll Be Me

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Debbie Glade tells us why Miss Mousie’s Blind Date  ($19.99, Tundra Books, Ages 3 and up) made her giggle and smile.

Who wouldn’t want to read a book with verse like this?

 “Matt LaBatt, the water rat,
was such a handsome fellow!
His fur was black. His eyes were red.
His teeth were lemon yellow.”

In the mood for a little romance and companionship, Miss Mousie tries to get the attention of a potential gentleman caller, only to be mortified when he calls her “fat.” She goes home embarrassed and in total despair. But a few days later she discover an anonymous invitation on her door from a mystery date. Feeling insecure, Miss Mousie gets all dressed up in a disguise. When she meets her mystery man, or rather mystery mole, what she discovers is not quite what she had expected and she sees herself in a whole new accepting light.

There are many children’s books that teach individuality, but Miss Mousie’s Blind Date does it in a wonderfully subtle and original way. The rhyming verse is so cleverly written by author, Tim Beiser, and the story is just plain cute. The charming illustrations by Rachel Berman are beautifully detailed and really animate the story.

What I love about this book is that it reminds us all that everyone feels insecure about themselves in one way or another, and it’s okay. It also gives us hope that there’s someone very special out there for each and every one of us.