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Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown

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
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.

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Oh How I Wish I Had a Pet Moose

Debbie Glade weighs in on this new picture book by Oliver Jeffers about a boy and his pet moose.

Adorable, delightful, darling, sweet, charming – these are all synonyms for the word, cute. This Moose Belongs to Me ($16.99, Penguin Young Readers, Ages 3-7) is indeed all the above. Can you tell I thoroughly enjoyed this picture book? I promise you will, too.

Wilfred is your average boy with a pet moose he names, Marcel. (As if it is normal to have a pet moose, never mind one named Marcel.) Wilfred really enjoys Marcel’s company, and like most boys with a pet, Wilfred lays down some rules. The problem is that, well moose don’t really follow rules too well. Do they? One day, Wilfred and Marcel stumble upon a woman who claims the moose belongs to her. This sets off a series of unfortunate events for Wilfred as he gets himself into quite a pickle when he and his pet get separated. Will Wilfred ever see Marcel again? Will Marcel save the day? Will Marcel follow Wilfred’s rules once and for all? Read this terrific book and find out for yourself, because I refuse to spoil the outcome for you.

This book was written and illustrated by the very talented Oliver Jeffers, and his wonderful illustrations suit the story to a T.  This Moose Belongs to Me is a perfect example of what an excellent picture book should be – original, interesting, engaging, surprising, cleverly written and beautifully illustrated. Plus it teaches kids the great lesson that we can’t really “own” others.

By the way, Oliver Jeffers happens to be the author and illustrator of quite a few other books including one I reviewed and loved called, Stuck. I am already wondering when his next book comes out because I cannot wait.

Please note the release date of this title is November 8, 2012 – just in time for a perfect holiday gift for a special child in your life.

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TEN BIG TOES AND A PRINCE’S NOSE, written by Nancy Gow and illustrated by Stephen Costanza is reviewed today by Lindy Michaels of BookStar on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City.

51nozm8w3el_sl500_aa300_How I love a good fairytale and how I love this one. Our princess, in this tale, of course, is “lovely and fair with ruby red lips and a mane of brown hair…” But she also had… gigantic feet! Oh, horror of horrors, because each and every prince and would-be suitor she met, couldn’t see past her terrifyingly large tootsies.

While our princess hoped love would step in front of her (and not ON her colossal feet), far, far away… “There lived a prince with a nose like a barn… He was warm, he was kind, he was charming and fun.” Unfortunately, the maidens he met… “They look at his beak and say, ‘oops, gotta run, before he could speak.”

As it happened, one day found both the prince and princess skiing on the very same slopes of the Alps. Of course, with those two gargantuan parts of her body below her ankles, she didn’t need skis. And yes, with the cold wind whipping and blowing, the prince’s face was covered by a large, very large scarf. And you guessed it, never seeing what others had turned away from, his schnozzle and her humongous footsies, they fell in love.

“… When night deepened, the ski hill had closed,
the prince knew he’d have to reveal his big nose.
It was time for the princess, lovely and fair,
To reveal that she didn’t have skis way down there.”

But fear not, my children, for as all great fairytales end, “He stared at her toes. She stared at his nose. They laughed and they giggled and then he proposed.”

And, oh goodie, yes indeedy, they did live happily ever after. Which just goes to show, never ever judge a person by their nose or their toes!

lindymichaelspic3The very versatile Lindy Michaels aims to inspire young minds through children’s literature. Lindy owned L.A.’s first children’s bookshop, OF BOOKS AND SUCH (1972-1987) where she did storytelling, taught drama to children, had art and poetry contests and the like. According to Lindy, “It was truly a ‘land of enchantment.” She also spent years lecturing on realism in children’s literature at colleges in the state. For close to five years Lindy has worked for Studio City Barnes and Noble (BookStar) in the children’s section and does storytelling every Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

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