Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Favorite Hanukkah Books, revisited

Two years ago I did a blog post on my top books for the 8 nights of Hanukkah.  This year I am revising that list a bit to include some recent titles (and I have removed a few older ones that are now, alas, difficult to find).  The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins on Saturday, December 8 at sundown.  Because the Jewish calendar is based on the moon, the holidays fall at different times on our calendar each year.  These Hanukkah stories are wonderful to share with children of any faith!  This year I am very excited to be presenting a Hanukkah storytime, complete with a lesson on dreidel spinning, at the public library where I work.  Here are some of my favorite Hanukkah stories to read aloud:

1.  Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown.  The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming:  A Christmas Story (McSweeney's, 2007).  From one of our greatest contemporary Jewish children's writers, Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler, and his wife, the witty illustrator Lisa Brown, comes this hilarious picture book about a latke who has had it up to here with trying to explain Hanukkah to all kinds of Christmas symbols, from candy canes to pine trees.  He can't help screaming because Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas!  Absolutely pitch perfect for American Jewish children who are deluged with Christmas symbols in December, and a great read-aloud--the kids will love to join in with the latke as he screams his way through the book.  A Lemony-Snicket worthy ending will please Snicket's many fans as well.

2.  Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.  How do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? (Blue Sky Press, 2012).  Those fabulous dinosaurs obviously come from a multicultural home, since this year the celebrated author and illustrator team have released both a Christmas and Chanukah title featuring the adorable dinosaurs of How do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? and so many other beloved picture books and board books.  Toddlers and preschoolers will surely giggle to see their favorite dinosaurs being mischievous and squeezing the Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins), fidgeting during prayers, and more.  Of course they eventually learn the proper way to behave, and how to enjoy the holiday as well.  This is a great one to read aloud to younger children, or to purchase as a Hanukkah gift.

3.  Eric Kimmel and Gloria Carmi.  The Chanukkah Guest (Holiday House, 1992).  Eric Kimmel is the most prolific of our Hanukkah picture book writers, with ten different titles available, some with single stories, and others which are compilations of multiple stories.  This older title is my personal favorite.  A delightful comic story set in the Old Country, The Chanukkah Guest revolves around Bubba Brayna, a grandmother so old she's almost blind and deaf, but she still makes the best potato latkes in the village.  On the first night of Hanukkah, she makes a special batch for the rabbi, but when she lets in her guest, she's in for a surprise.  It turns out to be a hungry bear, but she can't tell the difference between the bear and the rabbi!  It doesn't matter, because the bear quite clearly enjoys the latkes...only what is Bubba to do when the rabbi finally arrives and no latkes are left?

4.  Eric Kimmel and Trina Schart Hyman.  Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (Holiday House, 1994).  This Caldecott-honor title is a great read-aloud for the elementary school age crowd (it can be scary for very young children). Hershel of Ostropol, the famous trickster (an actual historical person, by the way) arrives at a tiny village on the first night of Hanukkah.  The villagers are terrorized by wicked goblins, who don't allow any Hanukkah celebrations.  Can Hershel outwit the King of the Goblins himself?  Wonderful illustrations evoke the long-gone world of the Eastern European shtetl.

Hear Eric Kimmel read the story himself at this link.

5.  Erica Silverman and Steven d'Amico.  The Hanukkah Hop (Simon & Schuster, 2011).  The author of the popular Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa series spins a light-hearted, rollicking and fresh Hanukkah story as a contemporary young girl, Rachel, be-bops and dances her way through a rhythmic Hanukkah celebration, complete with dreidel spinning, candle lighting, latke eating, and of course dancing to a traditional klezmer band.  The book features a repetitive rhythmic refrain which adds a joyous touch to the tale.  The lively and colorful illustrations add to the fun.

6.  Issac Bashevis Singer and Maurice Sendak.  Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (Harper Collins, 2001--originally published 1966).   As far as I'm concerned, Issac Bashevis Singer's wonderful stories about the Polish town of Chelm belong on every child's bookshelf, Jewish or not.  While not all the stories in this collection have to do with Hanukkah, the title story, Zlateh the Goat, is a Hanukkah tale, and makes an excellent read-aloud for older children.  In this touching story, a family decides that they must sell their dairy goat in order to have money for Hanukkah and other necessities.  Twelve-year old Aaron is charged with taking Zlateh to sell to the butcher, but on the way, a terrible snow storm hits.  Zlateh's milk and warmth save the boy's life as they burrow into a haystack, and when they return the family cannot bear to be parted from her.  Who better to illustrate these stories than the inimitable Maurice Sendak; his drawings evoke the pathos and humor of the lost Jewish world of Eastern Europe, and his artwork combined with Singer's stories make a true classic (and Newbery Honor book).  If you've never read these, give yourself a Hanukkah treat and get your hands on a copy (and no calories involved).

7.  Maxie Baum and Julie Paschkis.  I Have a Little Dreidel (Scholastic, 2006).  Although this book was not available when my kids were the appropriate age, this would definitely be part of my rotation for preschool and early elementary aged children.  This colorful oversized picture book features the familiar Hanukkah song, supplemented with additional verses depicting all the events of a typical family Hanukkah celebration with relatives arriving, latkes cooking, lighting the candles, eating supper, and finally playing dreidel.  The author includes a recipe for latkes, rules on how to play the dreidel game, and the music for the dreidel song.

8.  Sharon Robinson and E. B. Lewis.  Jackie's Gift (Viking Juvenile, 2010).  This engaging picture book offers a touching and funny true story about baseball legend Jackie Robinson, written by his own daughter.  Young Steve Satlow is a huge baseball fan, and it's a dream come true when star Dodger player Jackie Robinson and his family move onto their block in their Brooklyn neighborhood. We learn that some of their neighbors had tried to stop the Robinson family from being able to move into the neighborhood, but Steve's Jewish parents had refused to sign the petition. Steve and his family befriend the Robinsons, and when the holidays come around, Steve is invited over to help trim the Robinsons' tree. When Jackie Robinson arrives at Steve's house with a Christmas true under his arm, not realizing that the Satlows are Jewish and don't celebrate the holiday, Steve's parents don't know what to do, since to them the tree is a religious symbol.  E.B. Lewis' trademark watercolor illustrations lend a nostalgic mood to the 1940's setting. I would recommend this book for Jewish and Christian families alike, since it offers a subtle message of accepting all religious faiths which is well-suited to the holiday season.

For another take on Hanukkah favorites for kids of all ages, I recommend the Jewish Library Association's new Hanukkah Read-up, a printer-friendly list of recommended titles for different ages.  


zbelle said...

Great list--and thank you for the recommended title list. Enjoy your program!

Playing by the book said...

All new to me, glad to have read about them today.

Stacey said...

I know several of these and LOVE Jackie's Gift. In fact, I thought about including it on this list, but since I made a big stink about gifts in the first part of my NBC post, I didn't want to include it (in case someone were just to eyeball my post). Thanks for sharing your list with me as a comment on my NBC post!