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.
When I was a little girl, probably the same age as the main character in Talia and the Very Yum Kippur, I always thought that Yom Kippur was actually called “Yum” Kippur, at least that’s how everyone in my family pronounced this most holy of Jewish holidays. So, I couldn’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to write a “pun-driven story of misheard words and malapropisms” like this “Yum” Kippur themed story, but I’m glad that at last someone has!
Author Linda Elovitz Marshall who, according to this picture book’s jacket flap, “raised her four children, a small flock of sheep, … on a farm in a historic farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York,” has chosen a similar setting for this charming tale. Only this farm’s inhabitants are Talia’s grandparents. Talia happily helps her grandmother prepare the food for the traditional Break Fast, a meal beginning at sundown immediately following a 24 hour fast of atonement by those over age 13.
The whole time Talia’s helping her grandmother, she’s thinking that the food-in-the-works is for breakfast, the morning meal, having misunderstand the correct name of the holiday. Talia’s confusion begins early on in the story and deliciously builds which will keep children turning the pages to see how everything works out. Who can blame a little girl for eagerly awaiting what she hopes will be the “Yum” Kippur breakfast of scrumptious kugel along with all the other tasty dishes?
The best part about Talia and the Very Yum Kippur is that, in addition to the humor of the play on words, Marshall introduces young readers to the meaning of this important holiday “… when Jews fast and pray and think about how to be better people.” While we fast, we take the time to think about our transgressions and pray for forgiveness. After learning this from her grandmother, Talia digs deep and apologizes for a lamp she had broken but had blamed on her doll. Grandma, too, asks for forgiveness for having yelled at her granddaughter upon seeing the broken lamp.
Assirelli serves up a selection of gorgeous folkish-looking spreads that pair beautifully with Marshall’s prose. Since Yom Kippur is in the fall, the artist has chosen autumn hues to pepper the pages making this special season come alive.
“Thanks to Talia and her grandmother, they all enjoyed a very sweet YUM Kippur.” And speaking of sweet, don’t miss the yummy recipe for Talia’s YUM Kippur Kugel included in the back matter!
What a Way to Start a New Year! is a new picture book from Kar-Ben about Rosh Hashanah. Written by Jacqueline Jules with art by Judy Stead.
WHAT A WAY TO START A NEW YEAR! A ROSH HASHANAH STORY (Kar-Ben Publishing, $16.99 Hardcover, $7.95 Paperback, ages 3-8), by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Judy Stead, is a wonderful book to share at the High Holidays or anytime really. Between Jules’s realistic and readable text to Stead’s vibrant and expressive illustrations, this picture book would make a welcome addition to any family’s book collection. A bonus is that the dad, who is not Jewish, loves celebrating the holidays making this story ideal for interfaith families.
It’s Murphy’s Law around Dina’s house as everything that can go wrong does go wrong before the New Year celebration. First, the family has just moved to a new town and are living out of boxes. It’s just not the same as when they lived in Greenville. When they decide to drive the two hours to Greenville to visit the Kaplans, old family friends, one unlucky event after another begins to work against them. Harry forgets his special pillow, Mom locks her key in the house, the car gets a flat tire, grape juice spills all over the floor and someone always exclaims, “What a way to start a new year!”
And while these kids who have just relocated to a new home and new city may compare and complain, it’s not uncommon considering the circumstances. They did not want leftover pizza for their New Year meal! They pined for their round challah and brisket. And the Kaplans, of course, because they were a known entity. Change is never easy.
When Dad accepts an invitation to meet Alan Levine, a work colleague, at the local synagogue for Rosh Hashanah services, Harry and Dina are delighted to meet Mr. Levine’s grandchildren. It’s not long before Murphy’s Law is history and this young family is joining the Levines for a joyous holiday dinner. “What a wonderful way to start a new year!”
– Reviewed by Ronna M andel