Every year as the winter holidays roll around I’m always on the lookout for new Hanukkah books. We of course have our long-time favorites, but finding new books is always a great adventure. Since Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown, I wanted to finally get my collection up.
While not a new book, Stephanie Spinner’s It’s a Miracle! A Hanukkah Storybook, is new to us. We found this one at our school’s book fair and it is a great little gem. This book manages to tell a little bit about the story of Hanukkah while also showing how it really is about spending time with and appreciating your family. Young Owen is getting to light the Hanukkah candles himself for the first time. Each night, after the candles are lit, his grandmother tucks him into bed and tells him a story about someone in their family, without actually saying who the story is about. Owen is learning about family history while also spending quality time with his grandmother. The book ends with a simplified telling of the Hanukkah legend. This is a great book for younger elementary aged children to listen to around the holidays.
This year’s book from the PJ Library was Little Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale, by Gloria Koster. This super fun story takes the beloved story of Little Red Riding Hood and joins it with the story of Hanukkah. Little Ruthie is on the way to her grandmother’s house to make latkes when a wolf steps into her path. Ruthie couldn’t let on that she was scared, she needed to “be as brave as the Maccabees.” Smart girl convinces the wolf to let her be because she will be much more delicious after 8 days of latkes. But he still goes off to grandma’s house, though she is out. He occupies himself by putting on her clothing. When Ruthie gets there, she still manages to stall him by making him latkes and telling him the story of the Maccabees. Her resourcefulness saves both herself and her grandmother and listeners get a wonderful telling of the Hanukkah story. A super fun book and one that I plan to use when I go into classrooms to share Hanukkah!
A great classic that I’ve never shared here is Lemony Snicket’s The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story. This is an awesome story for the older child, especially one who has enjoyed reading A Series of Unfortunate Events. Here is a tale of a latke who escapes a pan of frying oil and runs around town screaming at the top of his lungs. He comes across many Christmas symbols and has to explain himself – cooked in oil to commemorate the oil used to rededicate the temple, the mouthwatering smell that gives us a cozy feeling to remember that things are better now then there were in 175 BCE, and that presents really are not an important part of Hanukkah. It is a very funny book that helps us all remember the true meaning of Hanukkah.
One nice thing about some of the Jewish book collection that we have is the books that are loosely part of a series. A number of years ago, we read the book Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride. This year, we finally got a chance to read Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap, by Deborah Bodin Cohen, and it didn’t disappoint. In this wonderful book, Engineer Ari is on his way back to Jaffa from Jerusalem to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah. As he makes his way to his train he comes across two boys dressed up as Judah Maccabee and King Antiochus and some little girls playing dreidel. The children explain the meaning behind what they are doing and on Ari goes. As Ari rushes home, he gets in a little accident, but a Bedouin helps him out. One is Jewish and one Arabic, but they manage to help each other and celebrate the first night of Hanukkah together because “miracles can still happen.” I loved how this book put forward important information about the holiday as well as showed the importance of kindness and acceptance toward others.
In Yitzi and the Giant Menorah, Richard Unger brings us a new story of the people of Chelm. They have been gifted with a magnificent menorah for Hanukkah from the mayor of a neighboring village. They try to come up with a fitting way to thank the mayor, but each time get thwarted by Shmolik, the village messenger. Throughout the days of Hanukkah, young Yitzi keeps complaining that no one has sung any Hanukkah songs or done much of anything except light the candles. In the end, it is Yitzi’s plan that leads to the best gift. His gift has the town singing Hanerot Halalu, a song reminding us why we light the festival lights.
The book also has a wonderful one page telling of the story of Hanukkah that was provided by the PJ Library. For all of those who don’t already know the story, it explains it on a level that even first graders can comprehend.
Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Nicole Katzman introduce additional Jewish values in the book Nathan Blows out the Hanukkah Candles. This is a book that deals with an issue that many families these days face – having a child with autism. In Jewish tradition, we never blow out the Hanukkah candles. The concept behind lighting them is to celebrate the triumph of the Macabees over the Syrian army and the miracle of having oil that was only supposed to last for 1 night last for 8. However, in this story, Nathan is autistic and blows them out as if they were birthday candles. His younger brother, Jacob, struggles with Nathan’s autism. Nathan repeats things and gets lost in his own world. It embarrasses and frustrates Jacob. When a new family moves in next door, Jacob finds Nathan’s behavior especially problematic. However, when the new boy starts making fun of Nathan, Jacob realizes the cruelty behind his actions and tells him to stop. This book beautifully illustrates the notion that in Judaism we believe that we are all created in God’s image, B’tselem Elohim, and the high value placed on both compassion and inclusion.
Another surprising twist and a book aimed at inclusion comes in the form of Jeremy’s Dreidel, by Ellie Gellman. At the local Jewish Community Center they are having a workshop so that kids can make their own dreidels. For all of those who don’t know the story, Gellman includes a teacher who wants to make sure that the kids know the story of Hanukkah and dreidels so that can be quickly included. Once past that, each child starts working on their own dreidel, many of them fancy or special in some way. Young Jeremy decides to make a relatively simply dreidel out of clay, but what makes his dreidel special is that his letters are in Braille. He does this because his father is blind and he wants a dreidel that his father can easily use. The other children are curious about his father who “doesn’t look blind” or use a guide dog. They don’t understand what Jeremy’s father does all day or how he can help Jeremy with his homework. Jeremy understands their questions, but his father his just his father, and he manages to do everything just fine. It is a wonderfully inclusive story meant to help kids understand that parents sometimes have different issues to face. Additionally, the back of the book has directions on how to make some of the neat dreidels that the children made.
We get to take a step back in time with Jodie in Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig, by Anna Levine. In this book, young Jodie dreams of being an archeologist, just like her father, but for now she is too small and too young. When her father takes her to visit a dig at Modi’in where Judah Maccabee fought the Syrians, she jumps at the chance. She helps the diggers and realizes that it is especially hard and hot work, but that doesn’t stop her desire. It turns out that she is the only one small enough to get into a hole they have found where she manages to find caves that the Maccabees might have used when fighting and even finds an arrowhead! Jodie realizes that the Maccabees “must have been nimble enough to crawl through the tiny passageways, brave enough to not be afraid of the dark, and strong enough to fight off all of the people who thought they were too little to win.” And as her father agrees, “Just like my Jodie.” A great way to show that we have to continue to be brave, stand up for ourselves, and be willing to be the smallest one even today.
For lists from previous years, check these out: