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Here Comes Hanukkah! A Children’s Book Roundup Part 2

HANUKKAH 2018
BEST NEW CHILDREN’S BOOKS ROUNDUP PART 2

 

 

Free Hanukkah clip art

 

 

D is for Dreidel book cover illustrationD IS FOR DREIDEL: A Hanukkah Alphabet
Written and illustrated by Greg Paprocki
A BabyLit Book
(Gibbs-Smith; $9.99, Ages 2-5)
NOTE: Today it’s on sale for $5.00 on their website.

Let your little learners thumb through all 32 pages of this colorful board book with its retro cartoonish feel while you gently introduce all the different Hanukkah related things included. While this is not the first primer in the series from Paprocki (there’s S is for Santa, L is for Love and B is for Boo), I’m glad Gibbs-Smith decided it was important to add this title. And expect two more soon (E is for Easter and R is for Ramadan) which can be pre-ordered now. I honestly wondered at first how the author/illustrator would find appropriate words for each letter, but surprising he did including Y is for yontiff (Yiddish for holiday). Saying “Gut yontiff” is how my parents and grandparents greeted fellow Jews at holidays throughout the year.  From alphabet to zaide, I found so many of the illustrations beautiful and welcoming with their jewel tones and cheerful settings. J is for jelly doughnut is another particular fave but truly there are many so you’ll just have to see for yourself. Then, perhaps you, too, will be as eXcited as I was to read the book.

 

 

book cover illustration from Meet the LatkesMEET THE LATKES
Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Meet the Latkes by Alan Silberberg makes for an enjoyable read if parents seek something a bit less traditional and more whimsical to share this Hanukkah (or Chanukah!). Silberberg, an award-winning cartoonist and children’s TV creator, is both author and illustrator of this debut picture book.

The main characters in the story are Lucy Latke, her grandpa and her dog Applesauce. The humor comes into play when Grandpa tells Lucy his version of Chanukah or Hanukkah as is explained early on since the holiday can be spelled multiple ways. But these are the two most common. I suppose you could say Meet the Latkes is funny from the get go because we’re listening to latkes as opposed to people and that’s probably enough to get little ones giggling.

Rather than stick to the standard story of the heroic Maccabees, headed by Judah, who fought to keep the Jewish people safe from a brutal King Antiochus, Grandpa recounts the tale of the Mega-Bees. Their nemesis was a group of “Outer space spuds.” All the while Grandpa is telling his story, Applesauce is trying to explain the real version and growing increasingly frustrated.

Most young Jewish children know the Hanukkah story but it bears repeating annually. I never tire of reading new spins on an old tale and Silberberg has definitely done that. Children who aren’t Jewish or have never learned the story will find Silberberg’s way of conveying this historic tale most entertaining, especially if different voices are used for Grandpa and Applesauce. 

In Grandpa’s version, the evil tater tyrants ultimately get whipped into mash that, when mixed up with “EGG and ONION and a pinch of flour,” becomes what we know as latkes! Of course Applesauce goes on to explain the true tale which includes the miracle of the Maccabees’ discovery of a tiny amount of oil left “to light the holy menorah.” What should have been enough for one day lasted eight which is why we light candles for eight nights. My favorite part of Meet the Latkes is the teenage brother who always says “I don’t care!” and remains cloistered in his room until finally emerging near the end, making that just one more miracle to celebrate and one that may resonate with many families. In fact, I laughed upon discovering teen Lex Latke’s promotional blurb on the book’s back cover. “You want to know THE TRUE STORY OF HANUKKAH? Don’t ask me—read this book!” I agree. 

Light The Menorah! A Hanukkah Handbook cover artLIGHT THE MENORAH! A HANUKKAH HANDBOOK
Written by Jacqueline Jules
Illustrated by Kristina Swarner
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $18.99 Hardcover, $8.99 Paperback, Ages 4-10)

After so many years of celebrating Hanukkah, I thought there was nothing more to learn about the holiday but I was wrong. Jacqueline Jules has written an engaging picture book that I could easily see using with my grown-up family every year.

There’s an introduction, blessings, thoughtful verse to accompany each of the eight nights candle lighting along with a moving reflection to read silently, aloud or discuss together as a family. The second half of Light The Menorah! features four pages devoted to the Hanukkah story for which there are two versions, something I had never known. There’s the historical version and the rabbinic tradition which is the one I’ve always told about the oil from the damaged Temple lasting eight nights. The historic version says that since the Maccabees “couldn’t take a week to observe Sukkot properly, … they celebrated for eight days during the rededication of the Temple.”

The remaining pages answer common questions such as when does Hanukkah occur, where is it celebrated and more. I was delighted to read the section where Jules explains the role women played in the Hanukkah story. No one will be disappointed to see instructions for playing the dreidel game, latkes and jelly donut recipes in addition to easy crafts.

Swarner’s lovely watercolor illustrations dress up the text and are well paired on every page or spread. I was drawn to the book by the title and cover art and am glad I didn’t miss a single thing both Jules and Swarner had to share. This one’s a keeper and would make a wonderful gift to families just beginning to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

 

 

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

For more Hanukkah book ideas, click here.

 

 

 

 

Hooray For Hanukkah Books – Wednesdays With Once Upon a Time

WHAT WE’RE READING
WEDNESDAYS 
WITH ONCE UPON A TIME

A HANUKKAH BOOK ROUNDUP

Hanukkah free clip art

 

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.

 

Hanukkah Hamster book cover illustrationHANUKKAH HAMSTER
Written by Michelle Markel
Illustrated by André Ceolin
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
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 book cover artALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY HANUKKAH
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
(Schwartz & Wade Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
Starred Review: Kirkus Review
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.
Buy the book here: All-of-a-Kind Family HANUKKAH

 

• 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.

Paulie’s Passover Predicament by Jane Sutton

PAULIE’S PASSOVER PREDICAMENT
Written by Jane Sutton
Illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 4-6)

 

Cover art for Paulie's Passover Predicament

 

I don’t have a flair for cooking and it seems the same can be said about the main character and moos-ician, Paulie, in Paulie’s Passover Predicament by Jane Sutton. As the Passover Seder host, Paulie gets all the important dishes wrong. But unlike me, Paulie scores points because he at least makes the effort to prepare an entire meal whereas I’m more comfortable (and it’s safer, too) being someone else’s Seder guest.

Paulie’s invited all his animal friends over which includes Evelyn, Horace, Irving, Moe and Sally. At first his pals seem impressed by his Passover Seder spread. Soon however, as each traditional dish is served, there are giggles, chuckles and guffaws. “I see you have an extremely large egg on your seder plate,” said Moe. How big you ask? It’s an Ostrich egg!

 

Int artwork from Paulie's Passover Predicament

Interior artwork and text from Paulie’s Passover Predicament © 2018 by Jane Sutton, Illustrations copyright © 2018 Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.

 

There’s pepper in the salt water that’s supposed to represent “the tears of our ancestors when they were slaves,” but Paulie’s put pepper in so the pepper wouldn’t be jealous of the salt. He’s mixed pine cones instead of walnuts into the charoset, uses grass in place of parsley, and for the maror he’s carved a horse out of a radish instead of using horseradish!! But rather than ridicule Paulie who is embarrassed and saddened by his mistakes, his pals realize he’s just put his own special spin on the seder and love him for it. Happy again, Paulie reflects on the special meal. “He loved dipping his hoof in grape juice as he and his friends recited The Ten Plagues.”

When Sally is selected to hide the afikomen, everyone goes searching. Lucky Paulie finds it but unluckily gets stuck in the basement until his ingenuity saves the day (and the afikomen). I like the symbolism in his being set free just like our ancestors were and the special camaraderie amongst all the friends afterwards as they sing Dayeinu. “If God had only taken us out of Egypt, it would have been enough. Dayeinu.”

Vagnozzi’s joyful artwork will delight youngsters, some of whom may be old enough to recite The Four Questions. Paulie’s Passover Predicament is a light-hearted look at the holiday and reinforces the message that it’s really not about the food, but about being together and honoring the traditions of the past generations. Enjoy your read-aloud time with this story and wishing all those who celebrate a very happy Passover 2018!

About Passover From Paulie’s Passover Predicament:
Passover is a spring holiday that celebrates the exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. The holiday begins with a festive meal called a seder. Symbolic foods recall the bitterness of slavery, the haste in which the Jews left Egypt, and the joy of freedom. Children ask The Four Questions and look for the hidden piece of matzah—the afikomen—at the end of the meal.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a link to 2017’s Passover book review of A Different Kind of Passover
Click here for a link to 2016’s Passover book review, More Than Enough

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

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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A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss

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)

 

Cover image of grandpa in bed from A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss

 

Any child who has ever celebrated a holiday when someone special couldn’t attend will relate to        A 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.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Best Hanukkah Books 2016 – A Roundup

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
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.

Dreidels on the Brain by Joel ben Izzy for Readukkah

DREIDELS ON THE BRAIN
By Joel ben Izzy
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Dreidels on the Brain car

 

 

When I adore a book, and I did adore Joel ben Izzy’s Dreidels on The Brain, I tend to read every last word from the dedication to the acknowledgements. In doing so I happened to find this gem at the bottom of the copyright page:

“This is a work of fiction… and of friction–the kind that filled the author’s childhood. Although much is based upon actual people, places, and events from his life, he has taken great liberties in all these realms–as well as spelling–to recount a story set over the course of the eight days of Hanukkah, 1971.”
There’s more, but you’ll just have to get a copy to read on.

Ben Izzy is a renowned storyteller and Dreidels on The Brain is his first foray into fiction for kids, middle grade readers to be precise, and I hope he writes more. His ability to convincingly convey time, place, character, conflict and voice was not lost on this reader who grew up in that era. Dreidels on The Brain is so much more than a Hanukkah story. It’s a heartwarming coming-of-age novel filled with memorable laugh out loud moments and it seems to have fun with itself and the reader who will quickly catch on to all the zany things Izzy’s included. He’s spelled Hanukkah a ton of different ways and, when he gets the opportunity, does the same with ketchup. On top of this there are lots of jokes, insight into magic tricks, great cultural references, and just the right amount of Yiddish words added to an already winning mix.

As mentioned above, Dreidels on The Brain is set in 1971, Temple City, California, just east of Los Angeles with no temple to be found. The main character’s Jewish family (whose last name shall not be revealed here) actually attends a temple or synagogue in nearby Rosemead. Joel, the self-proclaimed funny-looking main character, is short, has braces, wears glasses, and is the odd man out as the school’s only Jewish student.

Nine chapters take readers through Joel’s eight days and nights of Hanukkah. Ben Izzy has managed to seamlessly weave magic, miracles, matzoh balls, and music from Fiddler on The Roof into an unforgettable story of a boy, on the cusp of adulthood according to the Jewish religion, wanting to be anyone, but himself. This all plays out over the Hanukkah holiday while touching upon faith, family, friends, and one particular female named Amy O’Shea. Readers will find it easy to root for the lovable protagonist and, like him and the message of his dreidel game, wish that a great miracle could happen there.

Joel, a tween with soon-to-be teen angst, is questioning his belief in God as he navigates his role as school dork, token Jew, and the youngest son in his family of five including two older brothers. His parents are struggling financially, but his mom never gives up hope for better times ahead. His dad, unemployed, is always on the verge of creating the next must-have invention, all while coping with his debilitating arthritis. Although it’s clear there’s much love in Joel’s family, as seen through the eyes of this twelve-year-old boy, there’s not much to be desired about his life. For example, he never gets a Hanukkah present as it’s simply not affordable. Joel does manage to make some spending money by performing magic tricks at parties, but when classmate Amy suggests they team up because an assistant will add to a magic show’s appeal, Joel finds himself falling for this girl he considers to be way out of his league.

The plot lines center around Joel having to perform a magic show at his grandma’s nursing home, his dad needing surgery over Hanukkah, and an invitation from the principal to present the Hanukkah story to the entire school at a special assembly. Will everything go according to plan convincing Joel that miracles can happen? “All I can do is answer the way Jews always do–with another question. Why not?”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel for #Readukkah

More Than Enough: A Passover Story by April Halprin Wayland

MORE THAN ENOUGH:
A PASSOVER STORY
Written by April Halprin Wayland
Illustrated by Katie Kath
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

 

More_Than_Enough-cvr

 

Get ready for Passover with More Than Enough. In her new picture book, April Halprin Wayland captures the many joyful experiences children feel at Passover.

I found myself singing the story, moving easily and eagerly from page to page with More Than Enough’s perfectly paced melodic text. How apropos given that Wayland was inspired to write this picture book because of the Dayenu song, her favorite part of the Passover seder. In the author’s notes she explains, “For me, Dayenu’s message – being grateful for the blessings in each moment – goes beyond Passover.”

interior kitten MORE THAN ENOUGH

Interior artwork from More Than Enough by April Halprin Wayland with illustrations by Katie Kath, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Accenting every two or four lines is the word dayenu, reminding readers to savor the special moments and to count our blessings big and small. Whether wandering through the local farmers market with their mom while looking for Seder ingredients, or getting a new kitten from a shelter, the brother and sister narrators enjoy every moment of the lead up to the Passover holiday.

 

Interior rain MORE THAN ENOUGH

Interior artwork from More Than Enough by April Halprin Wayland with illustrations by Katie Kath, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Together with their parents, the siblings help make Charoset, a Passover dish symbolizing mortar. They then prepare to go to their grandma’s house for the Seder. Wayland takes readers through the Seder traditions so even those unfamiliar with Passover will find they’ve gotten a better understanding of this important Jewish celebration.

 

interior 4 MORE THAN ENOUGH

Interior artwork from More Than Enough by April Halprin Wayland with illustrations by Katie Kath, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Ending with our narrators’ full tummies and a Passover sleepover at Nana’s, More Than Enough is a heart-warming story and a welcome addition to any family’s holiday book collection. Jews and non-Jews will appreciate the glossary Wayland’s provided to introduce young readers to interesting Passover vocabulary. She’s even included  the song sheet for Dayenu for those who’d like a go at playing the song on their own.

Illustrator Katie Kath’s wonderful water colors are so cheerful and convey the excitement that children experience as Passover approaches. I especially liked all the Seder spreads with family gathered around Nana’s dining room table. Those illustrations took me back to the years of celebrating at my aunt’s house with my Nana, some of the sweetest memories I have of holiday time spent with family. I know readers will feel the same way, too.  Dayenu!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Hanukkah Books for #Readukkah & Giveaway

TWO OF OUR FAVORITE NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS
FOR #READUKKAH 2015
& GIVEAWAY

hanukkah-menorah-16069688

 

 

OskarandtheEightBlessings

 

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel (Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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Interior artwork from Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel, Roaring Brook Press, ©2015.

“Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar …” and so begins this poignant picture book with four square sepia toned panels showing the Hanukkah Menorah being lit. Yet with the turn of a page, and the colors going black, the family huddling in fear, synagogues are burnt, the storefront windows of Jewish businesses are broken and life as Oskar and his family knew it was forever changed. Oskar and the Eight Blessings focuses on Oskar as a refugee, only the year is 1938 not 2015. He’s come to America, sent by his fearful parents, immediately following Night of the Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), when it became clear that all Jewish people in Nazi Germany were in grave danger. Landing in New York City, with only the name and photo of his Aunt Esther, Oskar must navigate the cold, big city by himself and make his way 100 blocks up Broadway from the pier in Lower Manhattan.

Oskar_Interior1

Interior artwork from Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel, Roaring Brook Press, ©2015.

Not only is Oskar and the Eight Blessings a unique and engaging Hanukkah book, so is the way this book is presented. Unlike typical picture books with a title page followed by the story, this tale unfolds with the awful events precipitating Oskar’s departure, and the title page then becomes part of a two-page spread featuring the city’s dramatic skyline as Oskar’s ship pulls into port. It’s not just the seventh night of Hanukkah as Oskar heads uptown, “it was also Christmas Eve.” The first blessing Oskar receives is from a woman feeding pigeons. Sensing his hunger, she offers Oskar a small loaf of bread. This sustenance helps him carry on so that he can reach Aunt Esther before sundown when the Hanukkah candles would be lit. Along Oskar’s journey, he encounters New Yorkers and others (Eleanor Roosevelt) who bestow upon Oskar another six random acts of kindness that tie into that time period and more importantly, that feed his soul and keep him going until he’s walked all the way to Aunt Esther’s, the eighth blessing.

Back matter includes an informative Author’s Note, a glossary, as well as a map showing Oskar’s stops on his long day’s trek. I’m so glad I can share this uplifting Hanukkah story filled with evocative scenes and moving text, and use it as a jumping off point to reflect with my family on our blessings this holiday season.

 

 

TheParakeetNamedDreidel

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); $17.99, Ages 5-8)

PARAKEET 1

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) ©2015.

Beloved storyteller and Nobel Prize winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of The Parakeet Named Dreidel is brought to life by debut picture book illustrator, Suzanne Raphael Berkson. In its latest iteration, The Parakeet Named Dreidel, perhaps the best known from Singer’s Hanukkah collection of stories from The Power of Light, with page after page of joyful watercolor illustrations, seems ideal for a new generation of readers.

This heartwarming tale of lost and found and love never fails to bring a smile to my face. In this picture book, the narrator Singer is recounting a tale from ten years earlier when he was looking out the frost covered window with his son, David. It was the eighth day of Hanukkah and the Menorah burned brightly on their windowsill. During a game of dreidel, David discovered a parakeet on the ledge outside the window “perhaps attracted by the light.” This casually recollected tale, though actually carefully constructed to keep us turning the pages, takes us through that eventful evening after Singer and son David encouraged the parakeet to come inside from the cold. This yellow-green bird appeared trained and could even play dreidel by pushing the wooden top with its beak, so surely someone had lost and must be missing it. Because of its game playing skills, David named the parakeet Dreidel, but set out with his dad the next day to find its owner. The most revealing trait of Dreidel’s was his ability to speak Yiddish! On occasion, the family heard the parakeet say, “Zeldele, geh schlofen” (Zeldele, go to sleep). Yet despite his uniqueness, the parakeet went unclaimed.

 

PARAKEET 2

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Suzanne Raphael Berkson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) ©2015.

 

Nine years went by and we see, through Raphael Berkson’s playful art, that Dreidel has grown to be a member of the Singer family, often sitting alongside the author as he typed. By this point, David has become a college student and, as fate would have it, attended a party where, while telling the story of Dreidel, he happened to meet the actual Zelda of whom Dreidel had long ago spoken. She was Zeldele, the original owner. The two college students soon became a couple, Zelda was reunited with her long lost pet, and Dreidel was credited with bringing the pair together. My favorite illustration is the Chagall-like one included here that depicts the loving young couple as jubilant new parents floating amongst all the significant items in their relationship. This book brought home the serendipity of life and the love a pet can bring into a family’s home. Raphael Berkson has selected a wonderful story to show off her talent and make me look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Best Hanukkah Books Roundup

BEST HANUKKAH BOOKS ROUNDUP

Hanukkah arrives early again this year and so it’s time for our annual Hannukah books roundup featuring our faves for you to share with your children. All these books make great gifts, too, so why not give the gift of a wonderful story?


NONNA’S HANUKKAH SURPRISE
NonnasHanukkahSurprise by Karen Fisman with illustrations by Martha Avilés (Kar-Ben; $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 3-8)
This simple, seemingly straightforward Hanukkah story of girl gets Hanukkah Menorah (aka hanukkiyah), girl loses Hanukkah Menorah, girl gets new Hanukkah Menorah has several super, smile-producing twists. For one thing, Rachel’s haukkiyah is made up of 9 female Maccabees instead of males, and this year, Rachel’s Hanukkah celebration will be away from home, with Nonna, her Italian grandma. I love how Fisman’s put a 21st century spin on this charming Hanukkah tale of today’s typical blended family where one parent is Jewish and the other is not.  Rachel worries she won’t be celebrating Hanukkah at Nonna’s who celebrates Christmas, but her mom’s made sure to bring everything along including dreidels, candles, and traditional Hanukkah gelt so that the Festival of Lights will be just like at home. But when Rachel leaves her Maccabees menorah on the airplane, it’s Nonna and her sweet surprise that saves the day in this heartwarming tale of acceptance, respect, and a grandma’s love that knows no religion, only devotion to her granddaughter.

IS IT HANUKKAH YET?IsItHanukkahYet by Chris Barash with illustrations by Alessandra Psacharopulo
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Like its predecessor, Is it Passover Yet?, Is it Hanukkah Yet? in under 200 words, successfully creates a holiday mood with its festive artwork and joyous tale. This picture book opens with a snowy scene of nature.
“When frosty winds blow and snow’s all around
And there’s no sign of green on the trees or the ground.
Hanukkah is on its way.”
Barash and Psacharopulo take us from the bucolic outdoors as animals gear up for the long winter to the indoors as a family makes their preparations for the arrival of family, friends and the joyous eight night long celebration of Hanukkah. From stirring, frying and baking traditional Haunkkah foods, to the lighting of colored candles “When the blessings are said and the first candles glow” to the singing of songs and playing dreidel, the small pleasures of the beloved Festival of Lights can be found and enjoyed on every page of this lovely book.

HanukkahisComing

HANUKKAH IS COMING! by Tracy Newman with illustrations by Viviana Garofoli
(Kar-Ben; $5.99, Ages 1-4)
From Hanukkah is coming! to Hurray! Hanukkah is here!, this 12 page board book with its gentle rhyme and repeating phrase, serves as a perfect introduction to the holiday for young children and builds anticipation. A brother, sister and silly dog mention all the special things they love and look forward to about Hanukkah. Whether it’s cooking latkes that “Hiss, sizzle, pop,” or spinning the dreidel with its nun, gimel, hay and shin, Hanukkah is coming and that’s something to get excited about!

 

SammySpidersfirstTasteof Hanukkah


SAMMY SPIDER’S FIRST TASTE OF HANUKKAH: A COOKBOOK
 by Sylvia A. Rouss and Genene Levy Turndorf with illustrations by Katherine Janus Kahn
(Kar-Ben; $16.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 2-8)
Making his 15th appearance, “Sammy Spider dangled from his web as Mr. Shapiro told Josh the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil.” While spiders don’t celebrate the holiday,  Sammy could certainly watch as all the cooking began! In this latest installation of the anthropomorphic arachnid, we get a helpful intro, and recipes divided into sections of Simple Snacks, Miracle Meals (LOVE the Maccabee and Cheese), Tasty Treats (check out Melt-in-Your-Mouth Menorahs), Crafty Ideas (salt dough Hanukkah decorations are a personal fave) plus a section on Lighting the Menorah and Hanukkah Blessings. This is a terrific hands-on book for families this holiday season and definitely one to hang onto for years to come.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel #Readukkah

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Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein

DEAR SANTA,
LOVE, RACHEL ROSENSTEIN
Written by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer
Illustrated by Christine Davenier
(Doubleday Books for Young Readers: $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

DearSantaLoveRachelRosenstein

(NOTE: Sing to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It) … If you’re Jewish and love Christmas raise your hand!
My hand goes up as does the titular Rachel Rosenstein’s in the delightful Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein. And while the title certainly gives away the premise, the execution of this story is so entertaining it’s certain to keep readers turning the pages. In fact, this reader felt as though the story was written with her daughter in mind. Growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, my daughter yearned for all things Christmas, especially when the start of Hanukkah fell close to Christmas.

In this charming picture book with Davenier’s cheerful and atmospheric watercolor artwork which fans of Julie Andrews’s The Very Fairy Princess series may recognize, it’s easy to see why all Rachel wants for Hanukkah is Christmas. Shops are full of enticingly decorated windows, glowing stars light up the streets, pine trees and wreaths are everywhere with no sign of a Menorah, especially on Rachel’s street. “The Rosensteins didn’t celebrate Christmas because they were Jewish. Being Jewish was fun most of the time.” Rachel knew there were plenty of wonderful holidays and reasons to celebrate in Judaism, yet still yearned to share the accoutrements of the Christmas season. She wanted to string lights or have a tree, but her family wouldn’t give in to her requests.

The story’s humor kicks in full force when Rachel secretly writes a letter to Santa, then meets him in person and asks if he’s coming to her house. This is the part I can see parents having fun with when they read Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein aloud. Like my daughter used to do, Rachel prepared the house with high hopes for Santa’s arrival, but alas he never came. Rather than leave young readers disappointed about Saint Nick’s no show, Peet and Troyer end this tale on a positive note, with the Jewish tradition of going out for a Chinese meal. There, to Rachel’s surprise, she sees “some familiar faces: Lucy Deng from her class, and Mike Rashid and Amina Singh.” It turns out that Rachel’s not the only one who doesn’t celebrate Christmas! I believe children, both Jewish and non-Jewish, will enjoy this picture book, whether or not they share Rachel’s sentiment because it gently and humorously depicts a different perspective of Christmas than what is typically in books. And I can raise my hand to that!

    • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Shop Indie Bookstores

Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on an IndieBound link in a post and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

Talia and the Very Yum Kippur by Linda Elovitz Marshall

TALIA AND THE VERY YUM KIPPUR
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli
(Kar-Ben Publishing; Hardcover, $17.99; Paperback, $7.99, Ages 3-8)

 

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When I was a little girl, probably the same age as the main character in Talia and the Very Yum Kippur, I always thought that Yom Kippur was actually called “Yum” Kippur, at least that’s how everyone in my family pronounced this most holy of Jewish holidays. So, I couldn’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to write a “pun-driven story of misheard words and malapropisms” like this “Yum” Kippur themed story, but I’m glad that at last someone has!

Author Linda Elovitz Marshall who, according to this picture book’s jacket flap, “raised her four children, a small flock of sheep, … on a farm in a historic farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York,” has chosen a similar setting for this charming tale. Only this farm’s inhabitants are Talia’s grandparents. Talia happily helps her grandmother prepare the food for the traditional Break Fast, a meal beginning at sundown immediately following a 24 hour fast of atonement by those over age 13.

The whole time Talia’s helping her grandmother, she’s thinking that the food-in-the-works is for breakfast, the morning meal, having misunderstand the correct name of the holiday. Talia’s confusion begins early on in the story and deliciously builds which will keep children turning the pages to see how everything works out. Who can blame a little girl for eagerly awaiting what she hopes will be the “Yum” Kippur breakfast of scrumptious kugel along with all the other tasty dishes?

The best part about Talia and the Very Yum Kippur is that, in addition to the humor of the play on words, Marshall introduces young readers to the meaning of this important holiday “… when Jews fast and pray and think about how to be better people.” While we fast, we take the time to think about our transgressions and pray for forgiveness. After learning this from her grandmother, Talia digs deep and apologizes for a lamp she had broken but had blamed on her doll. Grandma, too, asks for forgiveness for having yelled at her granddaughter upon seeing the broken lamp.

Assirelli serves up a selection of gorgeous folkish-looking spreads that pair beautifully with Marshall’s prose. Since Yom Kippur is in the fall, the artist has chosen autumn hues to pepper the pages making this special season come alive.

“Thanks to Talia and her grandmother, they all enjoyed a very sweet YUM Kippur.” And speaking of sweet, don’t miss the yummy recipe for Talia’s YUM Kippur Kugel included in the back matter!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

IS IT PASSOVER YET? Written by Chris Barash

Is It Passover Yet?
Written by Chris Barash
Illustrated by Alessandra Psacharopulo
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

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For me, living in Southern California, the signs that Passover is on its way are not necessarily related to the weather. Instead I begin spotting boxes of matzo and jars of gefilte fish popping up on the shelves of my local supermarket. Close local friends call with plans for the seder, and we decide who will cook what, and how much we need to prepare. Family and friends, both in the U.S. and abroad, begin posting Facebook status updates about all the cleaning they’re doing prior to the holiday. We have to get rid of all traces of leavened products in our homes. It won’t be long now until we’re sharing the tradition that Jewish families have done for centuries.

In Is It Passover Yet?, a joyful picture book celebration of the lead up to the first night’s seder, a brother and sister notice the changes that spring heralds in such as flowers blooming and grass growing. “Passover is on its way.” This phrase, repeated on every other spread, builds the anticipation for both the story’s reader and the siblings eagerly awaiting the arrival of Passover.

When all of the windows and floors start to shine.
And our whole house smells clean and looks extra fine …
Passover is on its way.

We see Dad’s busy setting the table with his daughter on the night of the first seder, while Mom’s got kugel cooking. Her son is helping her get the charoset ready. Soon the relatives show up “And everyone’s ready for stories and singing …” The songs are one of my favorite parts of our seders and it’s obvious they are in this tale, too. I love how Barash not only got the rhyming so right, but included a Nana in the book as well. I recall dozens of happy seders with my Nana, aunts, uncles and cousins, so it’s extra special when “Grandma” or “Gran” are replaced by Nana!

Psacharopulo’s illustrations light up every page with glowing colors and a cheerfulness that’s infectious. It’s lovely how she’s added in pets to the spreads because the holiday’s all about family and our pets are so much a part of the fabric of everyday life. When in the end “Passover is here!” is exclaimed, we get a last glimpse of the seder from outside an open window. Inside the the family is dining together on this cherished celebration of freedom while outdoors the miracles of nature abound.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a look at a few more marvelous illustrations.

The Night Before Hanukkah by Natasha Wing Blog Tour & Giveaway

The Night Before Hanukkah
written by Natasha Wing
with illustrations by Amy Wummer
Blog Tour & Giveaway (signed copy!)
(Grosset & Dunlap, $3.99, Ages 3-5)

Night-before-hanukkah-cvr.jpg“This book was challenging to write since the Festival of Lights lasts eight days,” said Wing. “But with input from my high school friends, I showed a family celebrating Hanukkah in both modern and traditional ways.”

 

GRWR Review:
It’s not easy to take Clement Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and make it work for the Festival of Lights, but Wing does it and I commend her. Aside from Adam Sandler, not many can find the appropriate words to rhyme, but I knew once I read the opening line, that Wing had found a way in this jovial Jewish holiday read-aloud:

‘Twas the night before the
eight days of Hanukkah.
Families were prepping from
New York to Santa Monica.

Wing takes readers into the home of a 21st century family celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah. This loving family of four shows that Hanukkah is not just about getting gifts. It’s about lighting the candles on the Hanukkiah (a special Hanukkah menorah) each night and reflecting, spending quality time together, playing games, sharing, helping others, and remembering the story of the first Hanukkah. In fact not a Hanukkah passes without Jews around the world recounting the tale of the brave Maccabees and the crushing defeat of their adversaries when they retook their holy temple. Wummer’s joyful  watercolors depict a crowd of Jews from that era celebrating because one night’s oil for the menorah actually lasted eight nights!:

Before their wondering eyes, a miracle took place:
the glory of Hanukkah for all Jews to embrace.

Of course it wouldn’t be Hanukkah without latkes and jelly donuts (symbolic foods cooked in oil ) and Wing makes sure to include these. She’s even introduced the dreidel, the spinning top game of chance played with chocolate coins (aka Hanukkah gelt). I’m so happy to be able to share The Night Before Hanukkah with you and am sure you’ll want a copy to enjoy with your children. Thanks to Natasha Wing for signing a copy of her book to give away to one reader. Please scroll down to enter the giveaway.

About The Night Before Series:
Based on the popular story, The Night Before Christmas, Wing’s stories are about families celebrating holidays and milestones in kids’ lives such as the first day of school and losing a tooth. Her titles include The Night Before Easter, the original book in the series, which was published in 1999, and The Night Before Kindergarten, the highest-selling title, which has regularly been on bestseller lists since its publication in 2001. The Night Before Hanukkah released on October 2, 2014, and there are three more titles on the way including The Night Before The Fourth of July out this spring.

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Author Natasha Wing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, ©2014.

About Bestselling Author Natasha Wing:
Natasha Wing graduated from Arizona State University in 1982 with a B.S. in Advertising. Wing lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband, Dan and their cat, Purrsia. They moved to Colorado for the outdoor life and Wing was “happy to find a thriving writing community and a library that is open seven days a week with excellent programs for writers.” She has been publishing for 22 years and is a frequent presenter at conferences and schools and loves to Skype with classrooms.

To find out more about Natasha Wing’s books, please check out her wonderful website: www.natashawing.com.

Read Ronna’s review of  The Night Before My Birthday.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty

“Celebrate the holidays with faith, family, friends … and food!”

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Charlesbridge, $17.95, Ages 4-8).

⭐︎Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Rabbi-Benjamins-Buttons-cvr.jpgWhat’s the best part about Jewish holidays? The time spent with family welcoming in the Jewish New Year (it’s 5775 now), the world’s birthday? Maybe it’s rejoicing during the harvest festival, Sukkot, that arrives five days after Yom Kippur. That’s when we spend time in the sukkot, or huts, that harken back to when the Israelites built temporary homes of palms and branches as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Whatever the holiday, another essential element is the food, the delicious, traditional food we eat whenever we celebrate.

A new picture book, Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons, humorously exemplifies how much food is intertwined with every Jewish holiday, and I know how true this is because it’s when I pack on the pounds every year!

Beloved by his happy congregation, Rabbi Benjamin is bestowed with a handmade vest featuring four shiny buttons at the New Year’s service. “How the rabbi smiled when he put on that beautiful vest! It fit just right.” But alas, with a year’s worth of holidays including Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Chanukah and Passover and a year’s worth of dining on delicious meals, the rabbi’s belly expands. So what do you think happens next? Yes, all the buttons eventually pop off, often landing in a dish of fabulous food.

Reinhardt’s watercolor illustrations are as rich as the food Rabbi Benjamin is served at every holiday.  They’re cheerful, radiant, expressive and perfectly reflect the rabbi’s favorite saying, “A happy congregation is the sunshine of my heart.”

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Interior spread from Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014.

To solve his dilemma, Rabbi Benjamin performs various good deeds, or mitzvot, within his community from planting a garden to climbing into a congregant’s attic to hide some Chanukah gifts. Over the course of the following year, the rabbi’s positive actions help his belly dwindle down in size. But without buttons, how can he fasten his vest and wear it for the approaching New Year’s service?

After reading this picture book, children will appreciate how one good deed begets another, often when least expected. Also, rather than pull out the elastic waist pants, perhaps more apples and less strudel couldn’t hurt!

Make sure you check out the end pages for a glossary of words used in the story. I love that a mouth watering selection of recipes for such traditional dishes as honey cake, latkes, matzoh ball soup and strudel are also included. There’s also an Educator’s Guide available for downloading by clicking here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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