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Of Hanukkah Candles and Christmas Carols

What happens when your dad, who grew up celebrating Christmas, and your mom, who grew up celebrating Hanukkah, get married and raise a family?  They celebrate both holidays, that’s what!

In the 21st century when more and more families are interfaith ones, it’s common to find beautifully decorated Christmas trees alongside brightly glowing Hanukkias (the special Hanukkah Menorah with places for 9 candles).

daddy-book

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama written and illustrated by Selina Alko ($16.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 5 and up) brings the right mix of both family traditions in an easy to understand, thoughtfully illustrated picture book. I think it’s fantastic how the family featured in the story embrace both holidays. Together they prepare a meal for the last night of Hanukkah including turkey stuffed with cranberry kugel dressing while Mama makes “jelly donuts and fruitcake for dessert.” Throughout the home readers will see festive decorations of Mogen David (Jewish stars), candy canes, mistletoe and poinsettias.

And while there are indeed gifts galore for the two holidays celebrated, it’s really not about the gifts, but about families being together. The story of the miracle of the oil that lasted eight nights is shared for all to enjoy. Soon after presents are unwrapped from under the Christmas tree, the family relaxes and soaks up the last vestiges of the blended holiday festivites that will become memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Also included in the end pages is the Cranberry Kugel Dressing Recipe if your family would like to add this delicious food to your seasonal repast repertoire. So get out your dreidels, your Hanukkah gelt, string lights up on your Christmas tree, and celebrate all the positives of being a blended 21st century family.

This Christmas Tree Rocks Big Time!

61wu1SZqM9L._SS400_The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Tree  ($17.99, Random House, ages 5 -8), written by David Rubel and illustrated by Jim LaMarche, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

I’ll admit my eyes teared up while reading this poignant picture book by David Rubel with evocative illustrations by Jim LaMarche. What could easily have been a sappy story is actually a touching tale from which children will learn, “The best presents are the ones you don’t expect.” Readers first meet an elderly man called Henry, reflecting on his youthful self and how he got through hard times with a vivid imagination and a positive attitude.

51WNx1OyuFL._SS400_It’s the Great Depression and young Henry’s folks are struggling to make ends meet, living in a cold shack and cutting down conifers to earn some money. The boy, though grateful for a roof over his head, dreams of “warm places in his mind,” to stave off winter’s chill. One day Henry’s dad takes him to Manhattan to set up shop alongside a construction site. Before long the two befriend Frank, a carpenter helping to build Rockefeller Center. After a successful day, the father/son pair leaves the unsold trees to Frank and his crew. These men, fortunate to have steady work, have figured out that the tree seller is down on his luck and hatch a plan. On Christmas morning they bring a surprise for Henry’s family that will have a lasting and meaningful effect on the boy. Henry vows to somehow give back in the future.

51eCQRICAzL._SS400_That chance arrives decades later when a tree he once planted gets selected to be the Rockefeller Christmas tree. The celebrated spruce, after bringing joy to countless people, will be milled for lumber to build a home for a family in need courtesy of Habitat for Humanity working with Tishman Speyer, the company that owns Rockefeller Center. End pages with a history of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and info about Habitat for Humanity are included to round out the giving theme this holiday season.

 

Children’s Holiday Book Roundup and Giveaway

We may not get snow here in sunny Southern California, but we do get all the wonderful holiday books to help us get into the festive mood!  Ronna Mandel and Debbie Glade have put together a brief collection of recommended books for parents to consider when making up their gift lists this season. No matter what time of the year, one of the most important things to do with your child is read. So buy a book or two, put the kettle on and then snuggle up close to your little ones and explore lands near and far as they come alive with every page you turn.  For a chance to be the winner of three of these terrific holiday books, please leave a comment on the blog, LIKE Good Reads With Ronna on Facebook and be sure to provide an email where you can be contacted.  The contest ends at midnight on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011. Scroll down for contest *rules.

Record a Memory: Our Family Christmas Memories (approx. $15.95, Publications International, Ltd., all ages) makes it easy for families to share memories and then treasure them for years to come.  The sparkly, embossed cover beckons readers to open the book, fill in the requested info, add voice messages wherever there’s an icon pictured and turn good times into a customized scrapbook. With a little help from an older sibling or adult, even the youngest child can add their input by simply following the handy instructions provided on the opening page. Everyone will enjoy the 48 beautiful pages, with their ample room to include photos of Christmas stockings, Christmas dinner plus places to jot down specific recollections like a favorite Christmas past or yummy recipe.  Best of all is the six-button module designed to allow users to record a special memory, making Our Family Christmas Memories a keepsake families will return to again and again. Three AAA batteries are included and the books can be found at major retailers nationwide.  Add Record a Memory to the rest of your family’s holiday traditions and capture cherished moments for a lifetime.

A Bad Kitty Christmas ($15.99, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press, ages 4 and up), written and illustrated by Nick Bruel cannot fail when its cover alone cracks me up! Anyone who knows me knows I adore cats and now, having just adopted two maniacal brothers whose exploits compare to those of Bad Kitty’s, I love Bruel’s series more than ever. The picture book opens with, “Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city, not a creature was stirring … (Blam! Crash! Kaboom! indicating sound of garbage pails flying) … Except for Bad Kitty.” If this line does not set the tone for what havoc will be wreaked by this fabulously feisty feline, I’m not sure what does. Soon Kitty shows her disinterest in spending Christmas Eve with Uncle Murray and leaps from her owner’s auto (followed by Puppy), getting lost in the big city until rescued by an elderly lady.  After an afternoon of listening to the old lady reminisce, Bad Kitty  yearns to return home to his family. Sensing the cat’s homesickness, the caring woman realizes she has an important holiday mission to accomplish.  Will Bad Kitty (and Puppy) be reunited with their family for Christmas? Put this book on your holiday list to find out how they all fare.  Still eager to continue the craziness?  Check out more shenanigans at the Bad Kitty website.

Chanukah Lights ($34.99, Candlewick Press, ages 5 and up), is written by Michael J. Rosen with pop-art by Robert Sabuda.  Not all pop-up books are created equal and when you combine the talents of the masterful Rosen with those of Sabuda, you get a rare Chanukah treat for the entire family to enjoy.  Travel across the globe and through time by experiencing eight wondrous and intricately designed scenes of the Jewish Festival of Lights. Whether viewing the Temple where the oil that lasted eight days was discovered, journeying to a shtetl where “six lights flicker,” or traveling to a kibbutz in the Promised Land replete with olive groves and this time showing eight glimmering flames, the faith of those who have carried on the Chanukah tradition is beautifully reflected on every page. This unique interpretation of the holiday will not disappoint.

Create-A-Story Kit: StoryWorld – Christmas Tales ($9.99, Templar Books, ages 9 and up) by John & Caitlin Matthews is just the answer for kids stuck indoors with relatives and other visitors over the holiday break. Christmas Tales allows everyone to take control of their boredom transforming it into fun and games when using the set of cards provided. There are multiple ways to use the colorful cards and a handy storytelling book included that gives tips to get players started. Pick a card and begin telling a tale, or maybe play a card game of hidden clues. Kids can even put on a play based on the card images. My favorite card, The Christmas Ghosts (who appear only at Christmastime) sets my imagination soaring.  Thought provoking questions on the card’s reverse side ask: “What stories can they tell about their lives?”  “Why have they appeared this year?” Or in my case, the question would be “Why have they NOT appeared this year?” Then I would also incorporate the last question, “Who is able to see them and who cannot?” and so would begin my tale … Make Create-A-Story series part of your family’s annual celebration and see what a good time being stuck with relatives and visitors can really be!

The Littlest Evergreen’s talented author and illustrator Henry Cole, ($16.99, Katherine Tegan Books by Harper Collins, ages 4 and up) really knows how to captivate the hearts of his readers. This is an enchanting story, with an environmental message, about a how a tiny evergreen grows into a Christmas tree and about what happens to him after the holiday is over. Cole’s illustrations are beyond exceptional – so much so that I found myself looking at them over and over again. He uses vivid acrylic paints in such a way that they have crisp edges to make featured objects contrast beautifully with the backgrounds. This artist has illustrated more than 50 children’s books, including several he has written himself. Every child, who celebrates Christmas and loves to choose a fresh tree every year, will also adore this book. It is without-a-doubt one to keep and read every year before Christmas. It sure got me in the Christmas spirit!

CONTEST RULES:

*This giveaway will run through midnight on December 23,  2011 (PST). Winner will be chosen using Random.org from all valid entries and notified via email. Winner will have 48 hours to contact us at Ronna.L.Mandel@gmail.com before another winner is chosen. Giveaway is open to U.S. (18+) residents only.

*Good Reads With Ronna did not receive monetary compensation for these reviews.  Three (3) giveaway items worth a total value of  $67.97 will be provided by Good Reads With Ronna. 
 The reviews are in our own words and is our opinion. Your opinions may differ.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Upon Us!

There’s no better time than the present to review holiday books! So today Debbie Glade weighs in on a new book about an uncommon tree – just in time for Christmas.

Henry Cole, author and illustrator of The Littlest Evergreen ($16.99, Katherine Tegan Books by Harper Collins, Ages 4 and up) really knows how to captivate the hearts of his readers. This is an enchanting story, with an environmental message, about a how a tiny evergreen grows into a Christmas tree and about what happens to him after the holiday is over. Mr. Cole’s illustrations are beyond exceptional – so much so that I found myself looking at them over and over again. He uses vivid acrylic paints in such a way that they have crisp edges to make featured objects contrast beautifully with the backgrounds. This artist has illustrated more than 50 children’s books, including several he has written himself. Every child, who celebrates Christmas and loves to choose a fresh tree every year, will also adore this book. It is withou-a-doubt one to keep and read every year before Christmas. It sure got me in the Christmas spirit!

Author Henry Cole

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