THE BEST NEW
CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
The 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: 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
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
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.
(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.
BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH
A Roundup by Ronna Mandel
Written 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 Mazel
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
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.
For your tweens, don’t miss my review of Dreidels on the Brain, another great read to buy this year.
Hanukkah in Alaska, by Barbara Brown with illustrations by Stacey Schuett (Henry Holt and Company, $16.99, also available in ebook, ages 4-8 ), is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown with illustrations by Stacey Schuett, Henry Holt and Company, 2013.
Living in warm and sunny southern California, I was curious to find out if celebrating Hanukkah is any different in our 49th state. What I learned after reading Hanukkah in Alaska was so interesting that I’m certain your children will feel the same. Illustrator Schuett’s muted tones in her acrylic and gouache artwork set the scene of a freezing, snowy winter where a little girl is peeking outside, “making sure there are no moose around.” That could not be any more different from out here in L.A. where residents’ vigilance is devoted to looking both ways for the ever present automobile. We understand about the snow and the sub-zero temperatures, but with author Brown highlighting the presence of moose from the onset, readers can immediately tell they’re about to read something very unique.
The story unfolds during Hanukkah and centers around a little girl’s concern over the moose who’s taken a liking to her backyard. “He sleeps in our yard and eats our trees.” No matter what she does to try to get him to leave, the big antlered moose continues to inhabit the yard posing a threat to the girl’s blue swing. Why the swing? Because it’s attached to the tree he likes to nibble on. As the little girl narrates the tale, we learn that children in Alaska are taught to be wary of moose in certain situations. When playing outside in winter, if a moose comes along, “we have to hug a tree.” These big powerful creatures can cause tremendous damage with their antlers and their kicks so a child can never be too young to learn. I also learned that people who don’t live in Alaska live “Outside.” And because of its northern location, Alaska has very little daylight in winter making it an ideal environment for moose, but no for worried little girls.
So where does Hanukkah fit into this cold climate? When lighting the menorah every evening, it’s hard for our narrator to ignore the moose outside her window. One night her dad suggests they head outside to look at the night sky. There, spread out before their eyes, the family witnesses an amazing array of colors, “swirling and shining and glowing.” The northern lights or aurora borealis happen “only when the sky is just right.” The dad tells his daughter that they have their very own Hanukkah Festival of Lights. But despite the beautiful distraction, reality clicks in when the moose begins yanking on the swing. Everyone looks on horrified, but suddenly the little girl is struck by a delicious, Hanukkah themed idea for how to get the moose out of the backyard.
The satisfying (in more ways than one) ending to this charming Hanukkah story proves that miracles (like the miracle of Hanukkah itself) come in all shapes and sizes, some even edible!! An end page featuring an Author’s Note explains the phenomena of the northern lights and the history of Hanukkah so that the picture book is both accessible and enjoyable for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers.
Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue ($17.95, hardcover; $7.95, paperback,Kar-Ben, ages 5-9), a new story about the age old Jewish Festival of Lights written by Heidi Smith Hyde with illustrations by Jamel Akib, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.
I have read dozens of Hanukkah books and always love getting a hold of one that presents the holiday from an interesting new perspective and this one certainly succeeds. The tale takes place in 18th century New Bedford, Massachusetts, a whaling community where many Jewish families who have emigrated from the religious intolerance of Portugal now live secretly as Jews in America.
Nine-year-old Emanuel Aguilar is one such Jewish boy, son of a merchant whose shop sells whalers all the necessary supplies and food provisions for days and weeks at sea. The thriving whaling industry employs countless fisherman and many hundreds of ships set sail from the New Bedford port seeking their prey whose oil was used in candle making and in lamps.
Emanuel dreams of adventure at sea rather than the mundane life behind a shop counter but his father cautions him, saying a whaler’s life is “lonely and dangerous.” This timid nature of his father was also reflected in his reluctance to express his religious views afters years of persecution overseas. “This isn’t Portugal, Papa. This is America! No one will put us in jail for being who we are,” said Emanuel. Yet despite Emanuel’s repeated pleas for his father to light and display the Hanukkiah or Shabbat candle, Mr. Aguilar continues to live in fear and practices his faith behind drawn curtains.
It is only when Emanuel stows away on a whaling ship on the last night of Hanukkah that things change in New Bedford. The ship encounters a fierce storm and the ship’s main mast is damaged forcing the captain to return to port. Heavy waves and wind have caused the whaling ship to lose its bearings but with not stars to guide the crew and the lighthouse perhaps struck by lighting, darkness appears endless and finding New Bedford impossible.
But like the miracle oil that burned for eight nights when the Jews returned to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, out at sea a miracle occurred, too! The shoreline of New Bedford shone brightly against the night sky. “In the window of every Jewish home, including Emanuel’s, flames were glowing, proclaiming the last night of Hanukkah.”
When son and father are reunited both are thankful for the lessons learned as are we the readers. This moving Hanukkah tale is marvelously illustrated with chalk pastels that seem to effortlessly flow with story’s mood and setting. This is a picture book you will definitely want to share with the family and discuss because the topic of religious freedom is as relevant today as it was three centuries ago.
Wishing everyone a joy-filled Hanukkah!