Happy Birthday, Trees!, written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber and illustrated by Holly Sterling, is a 12-page board book that just exudes joy and one I can easily recommend for the annual holiday of Tu B’Shevat, a Jewish Arbor Day. Tu B’Shevat or Tu BiShevat has, over the years, grown to become a celebration of nature and the environment and a time to reflect on the importance of trees since we are their only caretakers. This year, the holiday begins on the evening of January 27 and ends the following night.
In this charming rhyming board book, three diverse children go through all the steps of planting a tree with a soothing repetition that reinforces the progression of the actions. First, they dig a hole. Then they carefully place the tree in the hole and, after a few other important steps, the youngsters watch the tree as it grows and changes through the seasons.
I love how Rostoker-Gruber, in such a short story, has managed to convey not only the pleasure of the planting process but the complete cycle a tree experiences. Sterling’s cheerful illustrations full of movement and expression show readers how, in the year following the initial planting, the tree ultimately blossoms, spreading its perfume for all to enjoy. Happy Birthday, Trees! is truly a Tu B’Shevat treet!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Clickherefor a Happy Birthday, Trees! Teaching Guide.
Click here to read a review of another Jewish holiday book.
In the colorful picture book, Happy Llamakkah!, adorable llamas young and old gather together for the eight-day Jewish celebration. Each night a new candle is lit by the shamash (helper candle) as dreidels spin, latkes are fried and ribbons are tied. The story is told with few words and many sweet faces of the llama family who end each of the eight nights saying Happy Llamakkah! Children familiar with Hanukkah will enjoy seeing the candle lighting as it reminds them of their own special Hanukkah traditions with every page turn. And the words “Happy Llamakkah” replacing the traditional Happy Hanukkah wish just adds laughter and fun for young readers. I personally laughed each time I read those words. This rhyming picture book closes with an Author’s Note which explains in simple terms why Jewish people celebrate the miracle that happened long ago. Happy Llamakkah! beautifully tells the story of the menorah in the window; and I liked how the reader learns that it was only recently that Jewish families incorporated gifts as part of their Hanukkah festivities. Happy Hanukkah! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
In The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Max and Rachel’s family move to a new apartment right before Hanukkah begins. So it’s frustrating when they can’t find the box that was packed with all the items they need for Hanukkah: the menorah, candles, Dad’s lucky latke pan, dreidels, gelt, and jelly donut recipe. So how can they celebrate Hanukkah? With help from their new neighbors and a bit of innovative, creative thinking, they try each night to celebrate, although as the refrain says, “It was nice . . . but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” But when Mom’s guitar is delivered the morning after the eighth night, the kids come up with a way to still celebrate the holiday and give back to all their new neighbors who helped them. . . and when the missing Hanukkah box turns up, it finally feels like Hanukkah. Charming cartoon illustrations add to the warmth of this holiday book about a diverse and multi-ethnic community coming together in friendship. • Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
I had a smile on my face throughout my first reading of this clever new take on Hanukkah and again the second time to write this review. Kimmelman’s wordplay in The Eight Knights of Hanukkah makes for a fun Round Table themed romp that delivers in the form of eight knights named Sir Alex, Sir Gabriel, Sir Henry, Sir Julian, Sir Rugelach (♥), and three females, Sir Isabella, Sir Lily, and Sir Margaret. There’s also Lady Sadie whose request to the knights prompts the adventure and premise of this story. “A dastardly dragon named Dreadful is roaming the countryside,” and its antics are disrupting preparations for the Hanukkah party she’s been planning. Their mission is to “fix things with some deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery.”
And so they set out to achieve this goal. While Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach journey to find Dreadful, the other six knights assist the citizens in whatever way they can. Knightly language adds to the enjoyment, “Hark!” exclaimed Sir Gabriel. “Methinks I hear a damsel in distress.” Whether peeling potatoes to help said damsel or making sufganiyot (donuts) at the bakery where a sign reads “Helpeth Wanted,” there’s no task too arduous for the team to tackle. But what about Dreadful? Alas, the disappointed dynamic duo of Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach fear they’ve exhausted all hopes of reining in that dragon until a smoky surprise greets their eyes. With their mitzvahs completed, the noble knights can begin their Hanukkah merrymaking with Lady Sadie and all the guests knowing their actions have spread kindness through the realm. In addition to Bernstein’s expressive characters, humorous details, and great use of white space, don’t miss her endpapers map to get a lay of the land. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
First published in 2014, this paper-over-board reissue features a newly formated cover ideal for younger readers. Somehow I missed the original version and was happy to find that Kimmel’s Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Talehad me turning the pages in anticipation as it also warmed my heart.
When Simon sets sail to America from the old country just before Hanukkah, he departs with inspiring words (and a knapsack full of latkes, a menorah, candles, matches, brown bread, hard-boiled eggs, and herring) from his mother. “Wherever you are, Simon, don’t forget to celebrate Hanukkah and its miracles. Who knows? You may need a miracle on your long journey.” This foreshadowing lets readers know something will happen, but I never expected a Titanic-like episode where Simon’s boat sinks. Mensch that he is, he offers the last spot in a lifeboat to an older man and manages to find safety on an iceberg.
All alone but ever the optimist, Simon lights the candles as Hanukkah begins. As he plays dreidel, he also prays for a miracle. He is surprised and slightly scared when a polar bear appears. Simon offers it food in exchange for warmth and company. The passing days see the bear share his fish with Simon until the menorah’s flickering lights attract a rescue boat on the final night of Hanukkah. Arriving safely in New York, Simon meets the man he gave his lifeboat spot to. Now the Mayor of New York, this grateful man is intent on repaying Simon’s good deed making the final miracle happen, bringing Simon’s family to America. Kimmel’s crafted a fantastical and truly satisfying story through and through. In the character of Simon, he’s brought us a selfless main character readers will root for. Trueman’s jewel-toned colors and shtetl clothing design help ground the story in the early 1900s. The play with light always brings our eyes to focus on Simon over multiple iceberg scenes. Together the story and illustrations (I love the newspaper clippings about Simon’s survival) will make any reader a Hanukkah miracle believer. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
The magic of Levine’s, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, begins with its glowing golden accented cover and is woven throughout this picture book embuing it with a feeling that it’s always been a Jewish folktale parents share every holiday. But it’s not! It’s a new story about a big-hearted Jewish spirit “whose magic can make things last exactly as long as they’re needed.” The tale was inspired by the author’s observations and emotions he experienced growing up as a Jew whose holiday and beautiful traditions were overlooked, overshadowed, and ultimately influenced by Christmas. Read the illuminating Author’s Note for more on this. Nate’s name is also significant in that it corresponds to the dreidel letters Nun and Gimmel, two of the four initials representing the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning, “A great miracle happened there.“
I was willingly transported to an unnamed American city in the late 19th century where immigrants of all nationalities lived and worked. Nate soon finds himself drawn to the plight of the Glaser family, newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Europe who are penniless as Hanukkah approaches. Additionally, their neighbors’ baby girl is sick and the O’Malley family cannot afford the medicine needed. Whatever the Glasers had they shared with their close neighbors but when there was nothing, Nate knew “he couldn’t stretch what wasn’t there.” How could either family even begin to think about celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas under those circumstances? The have-nots need a miracle. During a serendipitous meeting Christmas Eve on a city rooftop with Santa Claus, Nate is told, “The sleigh magic is nearly empty. Are there a lot of people having trouble believing this year?” The winter of 1881 is a tough one indeed meaning one thing; Nate to the rescue! He helps out the “red-suited man” who returns the favor in kind. Nate’s magic delivers Christmas presents under the O’Malley tree and, much to the surprise and delight of the Glaser children, not just beloved Hanukkah chocolate which was all they usually hoped for, but a pile of presents as well.
Hawkes’s muted color palette enhances the illustrations of this bygone era. His larger than life depiction of Nate Gadol, with a tinge of gold in his hair and a sparkle in his eye convey a positive mood despite the harsh circumstances the two families face. The pairing of Hawkes’s atmospheric art with Levine’s thoughtful prose makes a new story like The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol already feel like it’s been a treasured read in our home for years. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
After spending five miserable months at sea, Judah arrives in New Orleans. “His father and grandfather had also sailed the seas. They left their homes to practice Judaism in peace and freedom. God had taken care of them. Judah knew God had a plan for him, too.”
Mildenberger’s illustrations, using soft brown and blue colors, depict the busy harbor in Touro’s new hometown. “A busy harbor meant trade. And trade was a business Judah knew well.” Ades takes us through Judah’s transforming life as he welcomes new friends into his shop at Number 27 Chartres Street. Mildenberger draws crowds of people waiting in line as the industrious shop owner’s business booms. He becomes the most successful merchant in town unlike his father and grandfather who had been great Rabbis. “Had God planned for him to be a businessman?”
The United States entered the War of 1812 eleven years after Judah had relocated to New Orleans. When General Andrew Jackson urgently requested volunteers, Judah joined up, doing one of “the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield, bringing ammunition to soldiers.” During the war Judah was injured and his dearest friend, Rezin Shepherd, found him and nurtured him back to health. “While he lay in bed, he had plenty of time to think about why God had spared his life.”
e e Eagerly turning the page, we see Mildenberger’s moving full color illustrations of sad faces and homeless people as Judah walks through town. “His gut ached for the children who begged for food when they should have been in school. And he sobbed for families torn apart by diseases like yellow fever and cholera.” The poverty and suffering profoundly impacts Judah, supported by his cane, walking past the hospital. He knows he can afford to help these people and so he does. Judah begins making huge donations, but he “requested only one thing in return. He asked that his donations be kept secret. Judah Touro didn’t want to be famous.”
This engaging, educational story takes us through Judah’s purchase of the city’s first Jewish synagogue. We then see how “everyday, African men, women and children were legally sold as slaves so quietly, Judah began to pay off masters.” Ades explains to readers how, when Judah died in 1854, he left money for myriad charities and causes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. “He made sure that fire departments, public parks, libraries and schools could remain open and running.” In his lifetime, “Judah gave away more money than any other American of his time. But he was not famous. And that’s the way he wanted it.”
In the Author’s Note, Ades explains how Touro did not leave a diary. However his secretive, selfless and generous actions make clear that during his formative years he had learned a great Jewish value, helping those in need. This fascinating historical fictionalized story is a great lesson on kindness and humility for lower grade students. They’ll learn that success is more than having money; it is about what you do with that money, and that philanthropic deeds, large and small can be done without requiring recognition. In our world of social media and instant gratification, it was inspirational to read about a real life hero who did great deeds, but chose to avoid fame.
The night before Passover, a hungry and mischievous mouse steals a single bread crumb from a pile of chometz (leavened food) on a table where it waits to be burned in the morning, (to prevent the house being contaminated during Passover), and the adventure of The Passover Mousebegins! The mouse is chased first to the cobbler’s house, and then to the matchmaker’s. A different mouse and a cat join the fun, and confusion and chaos descend upon the community as they try to figure out what to do about the homes that have possibly being contaminated with the stray chometz.
This playful and inspiring tale is based upon and introduces children to a passage from the Talmud, a collection of ancient rabbis’ commentaries on Jewish law. Along with delightful illustrations by Shahar Kober, the traditional story presents a conundrum for the community, which is not resolved right away. The puzzling problem is presented to the town’s Rabbi, who presents an answer, but how to carry it out is ultimately suggested by a child, who speaks up and suggests community cooperation, which is embraced by everyone.
Joy Nelkin Wieder’sdebut picture book reads like a traditional folk tale, and kids will have fun learning the many Hebrew and Yiddish words which are used throughout the story. Some may be familiar (Oy vey!) while some may be less known (yeshiva) but thankfully there is a glossary in the back with definitions along with an indication of how to pronounce them. An author’s note is also included which explains the original passage in the Talmud.
Kober’s illustrations have an engaging cast of lively, multi-generational characters that grow in numbers as the story progresses. Individual characters are recognizable and can be found, and followed, through the book. Kids will want to linger over the assorted expressive faces which reveal their personalities and reactions. The Seder scene accurately depicts traditional food, and the clothing and setting throughout portrays a traditional, fabled Jewish community. Kober’s consistent pallet of earthy colors and bright accents invoke a warm and inviting feeling that enhances the warmth and togetherness of this assorted but unified community.
The story starts with the mouse, but the main thrust of the story involves the community who take a journey from confusion, blame and arguing, to unity—coming together and working together to solve their problem. In the end, everyone has re-established their friendships, spread some kindness, and even the mouse (and its companions) don’t go hungry (don’t miss the art on the last page! A wonderful tale and moral not only for Passover, but for any time of year.
Guest Review by Molly Ruttan e Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books had its book birthday on September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram@mollyillo
Purim is just around the corner! To celebrate this joyful Jewish festival in the 19th century, people of various backgrounds traveled by horse and buggy, and some by train, in Sweet Tamales for Purim, written by the award-winning team of writer Barbara Bietzand illustrator John Kanzler. This delightful and diverse picture book tells the story of a community coming together to combine cultural and religious traditions in a small southwestern town.
Kanzler’s illustrations of the bright blue sky and drawings of characters dressed in clothes from the 1800s introduce the reader to a time long ago reminding us that family traditions remain. The excitement on our main character Rebecca’s face is shown as she places Purim Party posters on the town walls, with her best friend Luis and her goat Kitzel, as old men from the town look on.
“We wear costumes on Purim,” Rebecca explains to Luis as her mother sews a crown of flowers for her head. Luis is not familiar with Purim “since his family celebrates different holidays from mine.” Bietz changes settings taking the reader through the story of the Evil Haman who plotted to harm the Jews in the city of Shushan. Through chalkboard drawings, Rebecca shows Luis Queen Esther’s Uncle Mordecai and Haman’s plot. Luis learns how the Jewish people were saved.
“When someone says Haman’s name during Purim, there’s lots of booing and shouting,” Rebecca explains to Luis. “Rebecca, can I bring my maracas?” Luis asked. “Maracas are perfect for Purim. Together, we’ll make lots of noise.”
After removing the delicious smelling sweet treat of hamantaschen from the oven, Luis and Rebecca go outside to play marbles. The story takes an unexpected turn when both Kitzel the goat and the hamantaschen go missing! (If you have a pet you probably figured this part out by now.) Purim was ruined, but Rebecca was determined to fix it. The reader anxiously turns the page to a new family tradition as Luis’s mama introduces us to her family’s tradition of Sweet Tamales. “Sweet Tamales for Purim!”
“When the husks were soft, Luis showed me how to spread the mixture on the corn husks and fill them with raisins and more sugar and cinnamon. His mama steamed the tamales in a giant pot.”
Bietz’s descriptive words and Kanzler’s real-life drawings welcome the reader into a time long ago. Adults and children alike see what happens when we all come together through kindness in both the past and the present. This beautifully told story about two children from different backgrounds is a great read about inclusion and reminds us how beautiful a town can be when people come together as one. Eating both hamantaschen and sweet tamales on Purim is a great idea! The Author’s Note explains the story of the late pioneers who settled in the Southwest where life was lonely and isolated. Bietz explains how her story was inspired by a true event that occurred in 1886 when the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society of Tucson, Arizona, planned a Purim Ball for the entire community. I learned something I did not know about Purim in the 1800s. I know this will be a great read for both Jewish and non-Jewish children.
Indestructibles: Hanukkah Baby is a welcome addition to this multimillion-copy series. If you’re not familiar with Indestructibles and have a little one at home or need to give a baby gift, look no further. The books, made from Tyvek, are “chew-proof, drool-proof, nontoxic” and hold up to “gumming, spilling, dragging across the floor, and even a cycle in the dishwasher.” Plus they feel good in your hands, are bendable, lightweight and extremely portable. Need I say more?
In under 40 words and at 12 pages long, the beautiful message of Hanukkah is conveyed in simple shapes and language ideal for the youngest celebrants. The spare text invites conversation about what is happening on every page. On a snowy day, grandparents drive to join their children and grandchildren for the Jewish Festival of Lights.
All the illustrations, featuring a vibrant blue background, depict beloved Hanukkah activities such as decorating cookies, lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel, singing songs, exchanging presents and of course, enjoying family time together. In addition to the traditional latkes and donuts, an adorable orange kitty can be found in every spread. Spread the holiday cheer with this charming and indestructible introduction to Hanukkah that can withstand all the grabbing, tearing and dribbling your children can muster.
In this adorable story, seven different farm animals show up on seven consequent nights knocking, tapping, rapping, swishing, thumping, rat tat tatting and scratching on Bubbe’s front door. Each one leaves a different present such as oil, onions, and eggs. Bubbe’s porch is a busy place during Hanukkah! Young readers get a glimpse of assorted hooves, paws and even a tail in the artwork as well as an accompanying animal sound printed in larger font such as neigh, bwak, or woof to clue them into the gift giver’s identity. Having children guess what all those ingredients are for and who is dropping them off only adds to the enjoyment of this engaging holiday book.
Klein-Higger and Sharf have given a fun Festival of Lights spin to the popular “Twelve Days of Christmas” song: On the first night of Hanukkah, what did Barnyard Bubbe see? One sack of meal. “Oh, my. Who has left this for me?” After seven nights of anonymous donations, Bubbe knows just what to do on the eighth night—make latkes for the bevy of adorable barnyard animals!
MEET THE AUTHORS
Meet Joni and Barbara on Sunday, December 8 at 10:30a.m. at Pasadena’s Southern California Children’s Museum. This co-hosted PJ Library event is part of the Jewish Book Festival. Klein-Higger and Sharf deliver a “special Hanukkah treat” as they “bring their story to life and perform original songs sure to please the 5 and under set.” Cost is $5 per child at the door.
HAND IN HAND by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum Illustrated by Maya Shleifer (Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 7 and up)
With recent surveys showing that fewer and fewer adults and children know about the Holocaust, the need to continue sharing this information with new generations by reading books such as Hand in Hand is vital. The annual commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah, which this year begins the evening of May 1 and ends the evening of May 2, is a good time to honestly but sensitively approach the subject both at home and in school for children ages seven and up.
Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s new picture book, Hand in Hand with illustrations by Maya Shleifer, provides the ideal vehicle to start the conversation about what the Holocaust was and how it impacted families. In this case the emphasis is on the tragedy of family separation, a topic with significance even today. Written from the perspective of anthropomorphic rabbits, the story introduces readers to Ruthi, her little brother Leib and their mother. According to the author notes, this family (apart from being bunnies) represents a fictional combination of countless real people whose moving tales of courage and strength inspired Rosenbaum. It’s not clear where the characters live but some of the language, like when Mama escapes late one night, leaving her children, and says—”Don’t worry, my doves. Sometimes walls rise up. Still, there is always a way … forward.”—I get the impression the city is Warsaw. Although it could really be any number of European cities where Jews lived during WWII.
Rosenbaum effectively employs similes like the one in the illustration above—”They hovered over our heads like tidy rows of storm clouds – threatening to burst.”—to gently establish the ominous presence of Nazi Storm Troopers, perhaps the ones Mama was running away from early on in the story when she departs in haste. Maybe the soldiers had already taken her husband.
The strong bond between brother and sister is evident on every page. Ruthi is seven and Leib is four when Mama goes away and she must now look out for him in their mother’s absence. A neighbor brings the children to an orphanage where they remain among hundreds, abandoned or left parent-less. The expression on Leib’s face as depicted in Shleifer’s art, when he is soon adopted, is both powerful and bittersweet. Pulled apart, like the torn photo of the siblings, from the loving hands of her brother, Ruthi refuses to say good-bye. Leib will be saved because of his Aryan “blonde curls and sapphire eyes.” At just seven she must find a way to survive, in the woods, underground, anywhere until the war ends. Then “The nightmare … came to a halt.
In the optimistic illustration of the boat above, it seems as though Ruthi has been sent to Palestine where she lives on a kibbutz and makes a new life for herself in Israel. Years pass. She marries, has children but always, always thinks about finding Leib. Her children and grandchildren urge her to add her name to an enormous list of people seeking family members. But is there any chance to be reunited with a brother who could be living anywhere or perhaps even no longer alive?
Here’s when we can rejoice. Ruthi’s efforts to locate Leib succeed. It’s heartwarming to see the siblings together once more after decades apart. Now an old man, though still younger than Ruthi, Leib greets her with tenderness, “Shalom, my big sister, Ruthi!” For her part, Ruthi notes “His blue eyes had lost their sapphire luster, but through my tears my heart knew Leib’s strawberry smile.” This framing of a similar line Rosenbaum used in the book’s opening brings the story full round.
I have been moved and impressed with every re-read of Hand in Hand at how well Rosenbaum’s symbolism and subtlety say so much. There’s no need to go into detail about the brutality and harshness of the Holocaust. That’s for parents and teachers to decide before having this important discussion with kids. Each child, especially the younger ones, has a different threshold for how much information about the Holocaust they can handle. What works so well is that Rosenbaum has chosen to focus on a relationship as a way into the subject of war and/or genocide and the aftermath. Shleifer’s illustrations convey the the sorrowful times Ruthi has experienced without Leib but does so delicately and only twice uses very dark tones when Ruthi is first separated from her brother. This touching book is one of boundless love, faith in family and faith for the future. I hope this picture book will resonate with you as much as it did with me.
PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE Written by Vivian Kirkfield Illustrated by Jill Weber (Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
I’m always happy to welcome a new picture book with an original take on the holiday into the mix of Passover stories. Today I’m reviewing Vivian Kirkfield’s charming Pippa’s Passover Plate with illustrations by Jill Weber so you’ll have time to pick up a copy to read before and during your family’s upcoming Seders.
The premise of this read aloud tale told in rhyme is that Pippa the mouse cannot locate her Seder plate, a plausible predicament even for humans! The pressure’s on because this concerned pip squeak must find the plate before sundown and the start of her Seder (the traditional annual ritual where people of Jewish faith gather with friends and family to eat, read, share stories and celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt).
Kirkfield clearly has fun with the verse and her meter is spot-on throughout the book:
“Pippa climbs up on a chair, stretches up–the cupboard’s bare! Teetor-totter–hold on tight! Weeble-wobble–what a fright!”
At the start of her search, Pippa asks Sphinx the cat if it’s seen the plate. After no luck there, Pippa is told to try Snake. Each time she must approach an ominous new creature, Pippa is filled with dread, and the following repeating and repeatable refrain …
“Quiver! Quaver! Shiver! Shake!”
… adds to the page turn appeal of the story since the little mouse must face her fears in order to find the missing plate. Her potential predators, however, don’t seem to want to do her harm.
When Owl wisely suggests that Pippa “question Golda Fish” (great name btw), it seems an easier, less scary task to undertake. Weber’s wonderful artwork here in addition to elsewhere in the book complements the text where Golda is described as quite enchanted with herself. Since a mirror isn’t available, a brass Seder plate in which she can admire her reflection is apparently the next best thing. I love Weber’s palate of all shades of yellow, a cheerful color to counter any feelings of danger when Pippa meets Sphinx, Snake and Owl. How the plate landed in the lake is up for debate so why not ask your child? I’m sure they’ll spin some wild tales. The good news is that Pippa can now prepare the Seder.
No longer fearful of the animals, Pippa invites them all to her Seder and the story ends with a frame-worthy illustration of the Seder plate, and the special food that goes on it. I do wish there had been one page of back matter that included a description of what each of the six food items represents in relation to Passover. Nonetheless that’s easily found online and the majority of readers will know and can explain that to their children. For teachers planning to read Pippa’s Passover Plate to a class, I recommend having this information on hand for inquiring minds. It also couldn’t hurt to include info on what matzo is and why a piece of it gets hidden during the Seder since it’s mentioned on the second to last page when the friends are gathered together to celebrate the holiday.
I recommend this adorable picture book which provides the perfect opportunity to discuss Passover traditions, especially for little ones ages 3-6 who will find Pippa’s plight engaging and most enjoyable. Happy Passover!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Find a Passover book review from last year by clicking here.
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.
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 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.
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.
PAULIE’S PASSOVER PREDICAMENT Written by Jane Sutton Illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi (Kar-Ben; $17.99 hardcover, $7.99 paperback, Ages 4-6)
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!
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Mazelis 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.