If you weren’t already aware of this, Hanukkah is super early this year. In fact, it starts the day BEFORE Thanksgiving. I am finding it very hard to get into the festive spirit, but we have opened up our Hanukkah box, we started decorating the house, and we are reading our beloved Hanukkah books.
For many Jewish holidays there is not a wealth of quality kids books to choose from, but since Hanukkah has become such a popular holiday in the United States, there is no way that I could limit my selection to one post. So this is my first post on books that are meant to be educational books teaching the true meaning of Hanukkah.
The First Night of Hanukkah (Nicki Weiss) – This book is written as an early reader, so it works well as a book that young children can read to themselves as well as one that you can enjoy together. I read it to my daughter’s kindergarten class last year and it was the perfect level for that group as well as for first graders. This book simplifies the language and helps you pronounce some of the more difficult names. It also has very accessible illustrations that help tell the story. One of the other nice parts about this book is that it begins and ends with a little girl learning about the story of Hanukkah from her uncle. He passes down a family tradition to her since family and tradition are such an important part of the holiday. Highly recommended for ages 4-8.
Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah (Maida Silverman) – This is a marvelous retelling of the story of Hanukkah that is simple enough for young children to understand, but factual enough that older children and adults will still get something from it. The demands of Antiochus for the Jews to bow down to Greek gods and not keep the Sabbath is repeated in a variety of ways to get the point across. It also easily explains how Judah Maccabee taught people to fight, and how they prayed to God to help their small army defeat the much larger enemy. When the Jews returned to the Temple, images of every man, woman and child helping get the Temple ready for rededication shows that your help is needed, no matter how small you might be. Surprisingly, the one thing this story doesn’t do is mention the miracle of the oil. That is told in a page after the story titled “The Legend of the Menorah.” Regardless, it is a well written book that is good for children 4-8.
The Story of Hanukkah (Bobbi Katz) – This is a more religious retelling of the Hanukkah story, but also a more in-depth historical view. The illustrations help flesh out the story, but can get more graphic as in the page where Antiochus is about to slaughter a pig on the Temple’s alter. No blood is shown, but the text mentions that its blood gets splattered on the sacred Torah scrolls. This is a great book for inquisitive young Jewish minds, but not one that I would recommend for reading in a non-Jewish classroom until 2nd or 3rd grade. Recommended for ages 6-10.
The Story of Hanukkah (David Adler) – Adler’s retelling is short and to the point with bright illustrations by Jill Weber. Much of this story is about the battle and how the small, untrained, Jewish army managed to defeat Antiochus’s larger army. This book also has two pages at the end of the story describing how Hanukkah is celebrated today – lighting candles, singing songs, eating latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), gifts and playing dreidel. Recommended for ages 4-8.
All About Hanukkah (Judyth Groner & Madeline Wikler) – This is a great retelling of the story, although it is more word heavy and less like a picture book. The book explains many pieces well for younger children, such as explaining what an idol is and why the Jews refused to bow down to them. This book, like the Festival of Lights, only mentions the miracle of the oil on a separate page not as part of the Hanukkah story. The book also gives important information for how to light the candles and what blessings to say. After the candle lighting section, it offers lessons to use on each night of Hanukkah with questions to encourage children think more about the holiday and why it should matter to them. It also suggests that children find ways to help heal the world and to help those in need, major themes of Hanukkah that people often forget. A great resource for Jewish families.
Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels (Deborah Heiligman) – This book is a National Geographic selection about holidays around the world. What sets this book apart is that it utilizes actual photos of Jews all over the world celebrating in different ways. While a small minority in the world, there are still many faces of the Jewish religion and it is nice to see Jews in various countries with their various traditions. Recommended for ages 6-10.
This is by no means an exclusive list, just the books that we have on hand that fit into the non-fiction category. Do you have other holiday favorites?