Two wonderful new books with a Hanukkah theme are reviewed below. However, though both books are Hanukkah-themed, these particular choices convey more about family and togetherness, an important part of the holiday, than about the Hanukkah story itself.
I loved the feeling Hanukkah Hamster gave me as I was reading. Edgar, the cab driver, finds a hamster in his cab and, being a bit lonely living away from family in Tel Aviv, reluctantly brings him home. Gently but hesitantly he incorporates the animal into his Hanukkah celebrations. As Edgar dreads having the real owner claim the hamster, and sharing pictures of his “lost” hamster on his cell phone, it becomes clear that the little rodent, now called Chickpea, has become a big part of Edgar’s family. To my delight, a surprise, big-hearted resolution saves the day. I could easily see this story being read aloud to an elementary school library audience where kids might not know about lighting candles on a menorah, but certainly can relate to a lost pet! Ceolin’s artwork adds just the right mix of warmth and light to this terrific tale! Buy the book here: Hanukkah Hamster
All-of-a-Kind Family HANUKKAH, which is based on the classic books by Sydney Taylor, and written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Caldecott Award-winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky, is a gorgeously illustrated longer picture book set in the turn of the century. With a glossary of terms and various notes from author and illustrator, you could easily use this book to cook up some delectable potato latkes!
Being from a large family with three sisters (and the lone brother), I can relate to this new story by Jenkins. The youngest girl, Gertie who is four-years-old, has older siblings and is always wanting to do whatever the older sisters are doing—even when it’s clear she is too young. As the day progresses and the special latkes are being prepared (“… potatoes peeled, and potatoes grated, onions chopped …”) Gertie just demands to be included in the kitchen, but her tantrum sends her to her room until Father kindly finds a way for Gertie to take part in the festivities. Jenkins’ rhythmic text makes you almost drool over the wonderful smells invoked from the baking the family is doing. Zelinsky’s illustrations capture the era completely and fill them with emotion, exuberance and tenderness. This is a classic story of family with warmth, joy and love all cooked in those delicious latkes! See the author page here for her NY tour dates.
• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios, Owner Once Upon a Time Bookstore
NOTE: Good Reads With Ronna makes no commission or profit from the sale of any book in this post. Our goal is to encourage the love of reading great books while supporting local independent bookstores.
Here are last year’s recommended reads for Hanukkah.
THE RABBIT LISTENED by Cori Doerrfeld is a book that, as a preschool teacher, I want to thrust into parents’ hands to read over and over again with their preschool/TK/Kinder children. Quick to the point, with language that works around a universal issue that children (and adults) must handle, while not talking down to the intended audience.
Emotional intelligence, empathy, the very things we need so much in this world, resonate loudly and clearly in this gorgeous story. Doerrfeld’s illustrations are touching and relatable throughout each character’s struggle to cope with the problem at hand.
The young protagonist, Taylor, has built something from his imagination that took no little skill to master with his hands. He’s worked so hard on his block creation, only to have it knocked down in a rubble of despair and lost hope. His animal friends want to help. They want to fix, throw away, remind him of better creations yet to come. Taylor, however, doesn’t need this. The animals all walk away, frustrated by their inability to help him, missing an opportunity to connect with his pain.
Then rabbit hops over. Rabbit is quiet. Rabbit listens. Rabbit doesn’t tell Taylor how or when or why he should get over his loss. Rabbit is there, and stays with the boy throughout his processing of an event gone wrong. And when the young protagonist is ready to rebuild again, rabbit is there to support him.
How often do we seek comfort from someone and get the opposite from a well meaning heart? Sometimes we simply need to be allowed our feelings, our disappointment and ill thoughts. Then, and only then, when we are ready, can we consider beginning again.
I recommend this book highly for anyone who struggles to help a child cope when they are just not READY for all the suggestions on how to move forward.
Give them the time and space.
Give them permission to vent.
Support them when they are ready to build again. And always listen.
GROUNDHUG DAY Written by Anne Marie Pace Illustrated by Christopher Denise (Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
Groundhug Day is a picture book delight that seamlessly weaves a heartwarming and credible friendship story together with Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day holidays. Making a themed book that can be read on more than a few days each year is a feat few authors and illustrators attempt, but the winning combination of Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise have managed to pull this off quite successfully!
Moose is planning a Valentine’s Day party and he’d like to celebrate with all his pals. There is however just one little hitch. While Bunny, Porcupine and Squirrel can attend, if Groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, he’ll “go back into his hole for six more weeks.” In other words, he won’t emerge in time for February 14th festivities. So it’s no surprise that when Groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, he’s quick to head back down, but hints there’s more to it than that. Ever the intuitive one, Moose thinks perhaps his pal is afraid of shadows. Determined to show Groundhog that shadows aren’t scary at all, Moose enlists help from his friends to demonstrate “just how awesome shadows are.”
Here’s where young readers, already drawn into the story, will be treated to several beautiful pages of illustrations (in addition to to all the other striking artwork in warm welcoming tones) showing what wonderful things shadows are and can do. It’s easy to feel the joy both author and illustrator felt about creating this lovely picture book. More fun times are in store because, despite no longer being fearful of shadows, Groundhog must still get his six weeks of sleep! This tale, honoring the support that genuine friendship offers, is both a sweet and satisfying read that has all the feels you’d want from a picture book.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF PASSOVER Written by Linda Leopold-Strauss Illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau (Kar-Ben; Hardcover, $17.99; Paperback, $7.99; eBook, $6.99, Ages 4-9)
Any child who has ever celebrated a holiday when someone special couldn’t attend will relate toA Different Kind of Passover.But even those who haven’t will appreciate the sentiments expressed and the lovely twist author Linda Leopold-Strauss has added in this heartwarming story I’m delighted to share.
Grandpa is sick and has just come back home from the hospital. That means the Passover seder will be different this year and narrator Jessica wonders how that will change things, especially now that she’s going to ask the Four Questions in Hebrew. And since she’s finding it hard to imagine a seder without Grandpa, Jessica soon realizes it doesn’t have to be that way. Grandpa may be nearby tucked in bed, and wearing pajamas, but how convenient that “… Grandpa’s door opens to the dining room?” notes an enthused Jessica. When Grandpa questions his participation in such attire, Grandma remarks, “Does God care if you’re in your pajamas?” The plan is hatched and the seder will take place with most things remaining the same as always and just a few things different like Grandpa reclining in bed and cousin Mark “getting to sip sweet wine instead of grape juice, since he has just had his bar mitzvah.”
The joy of family and tradition in this story is wonderfully conveyed through Tugeau’s muted illustrations. I love the varied perspectives he shares, especially the ones where we know it’s Grandpa looking out on his family seated around the dining room table. Nothing says everyone must be in the same room for a seder so when Jessica comes up with the great idea to include Grandpa by leaving his bedroom door open, it’s symbolic in so many meaningful ways. Leopold-Strauss has created a sweet and thoughtfully written seder story that will resonate with young readers for years to come.
BRICK BY BRICK Illustrated by Giuliano Ferri (minedition/Michael Neugebauer Publishing; $12.99, Ages 3-5)
Brick by Brick, a twenty-two-page wordless board book by Giuliano Ferri, is about building bridges and removing barriers. On the opening page, we meet a cute little mouse who innocently plucks a flower from a wall. A brick tumbles, revealing a glimpse at an enticing world beyond. The mouse carries that block off the page and is joined in, one by one, by other farmyard animals.
Together, they deconstruct the wall, progressively showing the reader more of what lies beyond their border. When their view is clear, they discover jungle animals separated from them by a body of water. Brick by brick, the animals build a bridge connecting their lands.
In Brick by Brick, Giuliano Ferri has crafted a simply important message. Young children will delight in the adorable animal characters. The clever use of space replaces a seemingly endless monochrome wall with a colorful landscape that invites exploration. Beyond the blinding bland whiteness exists the rest of their world.
Giuliano Ferri is a graduate of the Urbino Institute of Art where he specialised in animation and the award winning illustrator of children’s books. His work has been exhibited at Bologna International Children’s Book Fair for more than a decade, and in museums around the world. Mr. Ferri also works with young people with disabilities, using animation and comic theater as therapy. He is illustrator of Luke and the Little Seed, Nino’s Magical Night, and The Snowball from minedition.
WE FOUND A HAT Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
We Found a Hat concludes Jon Klassen’s terrific hat trilogy. In this book, two turtles find a hat. One hat. It looks good on both of them, creating a dilemma.
Unlike Klassen’s other “hat” books, this one is told in three parts: Finding the Hat, Watching the Sunset, and Going to Sleep. Each section advances the story with Klassen’s expected deadpan humor. With slim text (less than two hundred words), the images carry the story.
As night begins to fall in the desert, the two turtles settle in. One, however, can’t quite take his eyes off the hat. We expect the turtle to misbehave—that’s been the theme in the other two books. Does it? As the stars come out and the other turtle falls asleep, we find out.
Jon Klassen is the author and illustrator of many award-winning books, including the first two books in the hat trilogy: Caldecott Medal recipient, This is Not My Hat, and the Theodor Seuss Geisel award winner, I Want My Hat Back. His minimal text and clever illustrations meld to bring us unexpected conclusions.
THE PEDDLER’S BED Written by Lauri Fortino Illustrated by Bong Redila (Ripple Grove Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)
Lauri Fortino’s debut picture book, The Peddler’s Bed, is a feel good story that reads like a folktale, and simply begs to be shared with the entire family. Illustrator Bong Redila’s artwork, mixing ink with watercolor, complements Fortino’s engaging text and brings a magical and colorful quality to the book as seen in the images included in this post.
The Peddler’s Bed is about a hard working old man who is greeted by a traveling peddler. Upon his cart is a fine bed, “crafted … from the hardy oak trees that grow on the other side of the hills …” Tending his garden, the little man looks up and then, showing common courtesy, gives the salesman his undivided attention. When the peddler promises then demonstrates how this wondrous bed doesn’t squeak, my guard went up, convinced the peddler was laying on a hard sell with the end goal of taking advantage of the polite, maybe naive little man. I just had to read on to find out what Fortino was planning.
Clearly impressing the old man, the traveling salesman offers the bed “at a very fair price,” only the little man hasn’t a penny to spare. When the peddler proposes to give the man the bed provided he “can think of a way to make my oak bed squeak by sunset,” he’s assured the comfy bed will be his, and cannot refuse the challenge.
Hopeful of the prospect of winning such a fine bed, the little man shares the shade of his porch then prepares dinner for the salesman as the two enjoy each other’s company. Fortino’s peppered the story with lots of teasing, red-herring squeaks everywhere inside and outside the old man’s tiny house, everywhere except the bed.
Realizing he’s lost the bet, the man accepts the peddler’s invitation to try out the bed anyway and proceeds to fall into a deep, squeak-filled (snoring) sleep. The final gesture by the departing peddler, one of kindness and generosity after noting the little man’s grace and hospitality despite his hand-to-mouth existence, is one that will reward readers in the best possible way. The Peddler’s Bed is a charming story of humanity and brings a renewed faith in the random kindness of strangers found in the most unexpected places in the most delightful ways.
In less than 80 words, Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too)manages to convey the important message to children that everyone (except perhaps robots) experiences a wide range of emotions despite any appearances to the contrary. Negley, a well-known illustrator, opens with a wrestler in a locker room feeling nervous while young readers see his opponent waiting in the ring. Then an astronaut is floating in space clutching a photo of his family far, far away. “You might not think it, but tough guys have feelings too.”
Ninja best friends can have a disagreement and feel sad or misunderstood. Superheroes, despite being on top of the world, can feel lonely, cowboys can get embarrassed, pirates searching for treasure can feel frustrated, strong, gallant knights don’t always succeed “No matter how strong.” These and other examples of “tough guys” we may think never experience a “down” moment are all depicted showing their honest feelings. My favorite illustration, and perhaps one of the most powerful, has to be the big burly biker shedding tears over the squirrel in the road he likely has hit accidentally. The message, that it’s okay to get upset, may not be unique, but the way it’s conveyed to children is. The colorful artwork, coupled with the brief yet befitting narrative, allows parents to open a dialogue about feelings and emotions and the need to be authentic.
Don’t miss pointing out to children the endpapers in the front of the book showing the young boy, who is ultimately seen reading together with his dad at the story’s end, pretending to be all the characters depicted in Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too), and the endpapers in the back of the book showing the same boy doing all that pretend play alongside his dad. Sharing this picture book with preschoolers is a wonderful way to reinforce the point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having feelings, and that when they do indeed have a feeling of anger, fear, or embarrassment, they’re not alone.
In Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends!all Elwood Bigfoot wants is a friend – preferably a feathered, flittery bird friend! But his earnestly clumsy bigfoot-y manner gets in his way time after time. How can a lonely, large, LOUD Bigfoot get close to his avian amigos-to-be?
Elwood tries the direct approach first, chasing after swooping birds and hollering for the birdies to come back. Alas, they only fly away. His next idea is to live in a tree, where he can be closer to the birds. His dedicated handiwork produces a lovely, log cabin style tree house perched against the mountainside. Surely his new neighbors, the birds, will welcome him.
Alas, the birds seem shy. So Elwood tries to disguise himself, dressing like a bird from head to toe with feathers, beak and feet. Experiencing a modicum of success, Elwood thinks he’s finally about to break the barriers to feathered friendship. He shouts for joy! Alas (once again!) the birdies fly away.
Esbaum’s charming, lyrical text is delightful to read aloud and incorporates intriguing, playful vocabulary. She perfectly captures Elwood’s sense of loneliness in ways that a child can easily connect to, and she conveys his upbeat, hopeful and innovative spirit in appealing ways. While readers see that making friends is not always easy, learning to take the perspective of others is an essential part of the process.
Wragg’s illustrations turn Elwood into a marvelous, huggable furball. With a jaunty fedora and sarfari-style binoculars, Elwood is well-equipped for his bird-watching exploits. A single triangular fang and four-fingered, three toed shagginess add to Elwood’s monstrous appeal. Wragg also turns out an impressive flock of feathered friends throughout the pages, and displays them prominently on the book’s endpages. Whimsical and colorful, the birds’ tiny round eyes and pointy beaks reveal an impressive range of tender and comical emotions.
Elwood Bigfoot : Wanted Birdie Friends! is a sweet tale of patience, persistence and friendship. Young readers may look hard at the birds in the yards and trees around them, wondering if they are among Elwood’s best buddies. Don’t miss this encouraging story about dreams that do come true.