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Best Hanukkah Picture Books 2020!

 

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS

FOR HANUKKAH 2020

-A ROUNDUP-

 

 

 

HappyLlamakkah coverHAPPY LLAMAKKAH!
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Lydia Nichols
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 3-5)

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

 

NINTHNIGHTOFHANUKKAH cvrTHE NINTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH
Written by Erica S. Perl
Illustrated by Shahar Kober
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 3+)

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

 

TheEightKnightsofHanukkah cvrTHE EIGHT KNIGHTS OF HANUKKAH
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Galia Bernstein
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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

 

SimonandtheBear cvrSIMON AND THE BEAR: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
(Little Brown BYR; $12.99, Ages 4+)

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 Tale had 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

 

TheHanukkahMagicofNateGadol cvr THE HANUKKAH MAGIC OF NATE GADOL
Written by Arthur A. Levine
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 5-8)

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

 

Additional Recommended Hanukkah Books:

KaylaandKugelsHappyHanukkah cvrKAYLA AND KUGEL’S HAPPY HANUKKAH
Written and illustrated by Ann D. Koffsky
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 3-5)

The third book in this charming series.

 

 


A DREIDEL IN TIME
Written by Marcia Berneger

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro
(Kar-Ben; $8.99, Ages 7+)

Read Ronna’s review of this middle-grade paperback in L.A. Parent magazine below.

 

 

 

 

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Children’s Books Celebrating the Chinese New Year

RECOMMENDED READS

FOR THE YEAR OF THE RAT

 

 

 

The rat is the first animal on the Chinese zodiac and this year you’ll see all kinds of depictions of it as the two weeks of celebrations get underway this weekend. I’ve selected two books to share that are great for all ages. The first one is a board book for the youngest members of your family and the second is a fact and personal-account-filled middle grade picture book that will educate, enlighten and entertain every reader with its comprehensive approach to the Chinese New Year.

 

THE ANIMALS OF THE CHINESE NEW YEAR
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
Translated by
Kileasa Che Wan Wong

(Orca Book Publishers; $9.95, Ages 1 and up)

This sweet 28 page board book, in both Chinese and English, features adorable photographs of children doing assorted things related to certain Chinese zodiac animal traits pictured on the opposite page. Readers learn that the 12 animals “are in a race to cross the river.” Rat, shown first, thinks about how to win. The picture is of a little boy peering into a pond. We then hear about Ox and Tiger and all the others, my favorite being the bunny. The precious photo of a mom and baby head to head, full on in conversation complements the actions of rabbit who in the race is described as chatting “to everyone along the way. The simple movements and children’s facial expressions and accompanying text for the dozen creatures help convey a bit about the Zodiac character’s personality. The Animals of the Chinese New Year provides a gentle introduction to the holiday celebrated around the world and includes a brief note from the author at the end.

Chinese_New_Year_book_coverCHINESE NEW YEAR: A Celebration for Everyone
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
(Orca Book Publishers; $24.95, Ages 9-12)

This middle grade nonfiction book is part of the Orca Origins series that explores traditions around the globe and has its own dedicated website here: www.orcaorigins.com. This particular title on the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, aims to be “a snapshot of Chinese culture,” and succeeds beautifully.

The book, with gorgeous color photos throughout, is conveniently divided into four chapters: “What Chinese New Year is All About,” How Chinese New Year Spread Around the World,” How Chinese New Year is Celebrated Today,” and “Chinese New Year Celebrations Across the Globe.” In addition there’s an intro, a final word from the author, a glossary, and resources, making Chinese New Year a comprehensive and engaging go-to book for fans of the holiday as well as schools and libraries. Children can read the book in one sitting or take it one chapter at a time.

I was quickly hooked from the start after reading about Lee’s family’s story of moving to Vancouver. Her grandfather arrived as a teenager in 1913 and worked hard to establish a life for himself there. I also liked how Lee incorporated into each chapter several other individuals’ personal stories that focused on their connection to the Chinese New Year. By explaining the holiday, its meaning, popularity and traditions, the story of Chinese emigration and the diaspora in places like Canada, the United States and Australia was also revealed. Chinese New Year addresses racism, too, and how the goal of bringing the holiday out into the public was meant to welcome others into the celebration and help them see the Chinese culture with new, more tolerant eyes.

Lee includes CNY sidebars with interesting facts such as why numbers are important in the Chinese culture. For example eight is “the luckiest because when spoken in Chinese it can sound like the word for wealth.” I learned that the number four which can sound like word death is considered the most unlucky number. I now know the significance of the colors red and gold, red symbolizing fire and a color associated with the victory of fending off the mythical beast Nian. Gold symbolizes wealth and the enduring wish that one’s family should benefit from a year of prosperity. And did you know that twenty percent of the world’s population celebrates Chinese New Year? Or that in the United Kingdom 630,000 people of Chinese descent live, mostly in London?

There is something for everyone to get out of reading Chinese New Year whether that be learning where around the world Chinese New Year is celebrated and how, why people left China for a new start in hundreds of countries around the world and what they encountered in their new homeland, or the many different foods associated with the holiday. And with that I wish you Gung hay fat choy!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Young Adult Historical Fiction – Lovely War by Julie Berry

LOVELY WAR
Written by Julie Berry
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

Lovely War Book Cover

 

Julie Berry’s epic older-YA/new-adult book, Lovely War, cleverly employs a trial orchestrated by Hephaestus after he catches his wife, Aphrodite, with her lover—his brother, Ares. From there, the gods Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, and Hades narrate the tale of four mortals during World Wars I and II. Eighteen-year-old Hazel Windicott and nineteen-year-old James Alderidge meet at a parish dance in 1917 London—with a little push from Aphrodite. Alas, James leaves to report for duty in France and fears the reserved British girl, an accomplished pianist, has stolen his heart. Much to her parents’ mortification Hazel throws caution to the wind; determined to go where there is need (and be closer to James), Hazel submits an application to be an entertainment secretary in a YMCA relief hut in France.

Aphrodite also imbibes Colette Fournier, a Belgian girl whose childhood ended at age sixteen when everything and everyone she knew were destroyed. Colette gets by as a YMCA volunteer in the south of France, until, four years later, she ends up at the same camp as twenty-one-year-old musician extraordinaire, Aubrey Edwards. There she awakens emotionally. The passion and pain of love ensues within their war-stricken world resounding with the harsh reality of prejudice that Aubrey and his troop of black servicemen must endure.

Lovely War is a monumental, layered accomplishment pared down to a comprehensible size. This 480-page tome looks daunting but has short, fast-paced chapters with changing viewpoints. The outer framework of the gods felt as realistic as the stories of the four mortals that they reflect upon. I’d recommend this book to older teens, young adults, and adults who enjoy historical fiction, romance, or mythology. I’ll want to read it again someday because I appreciated the craft Berry employs while still maintaining sincere characters. Her historical end notes further explain how the Great War shifted the roles of women and affected the plight of the black servicemen.

Lovely War has received seven starred reviews and is an indie bestseller.
Learn more about award-winning author Julie Berry here.
Read another YA romance novel review by here.

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