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Recommended Hanukkah picture books

Hanukkah is here! These picture books, all published in the last several years and recommended by The Horn Book Magazine, will get you in a festive mood for the Festival of Lights.

Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah MamaIn Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama, Sadie describes her family’s December holiday traditions. Daddy Christmas makes latkes for Santa while Hanukkah Mama hangs stockings by the fireplace, and neighborhood caroling involves both Christmas and Hanukkah songs. Author/illustrator Selina Alko’s upbeat gouache, colored-pencil, and collage illustrations give the illusion of texture and fabric, adding a handmade quality reminiscent of a scrapbook — appropriate for a story about stitching together cultural influences. (Knopf, 2–5 years)

The Hanukkah HopOn the last night of the holiday, extended family and friends gather in Rachel’s streamer-festooned living room for her family’s annual “Hanukkah Hop” party. The evening starts with storytelling and dreidel-spinning; arrival of the Mazel-Tones klezmer band ramps things up. Author Erica Silverman’s gleeful text for The Hanukkah Hop! has rhythm, and Steven D’Amico’s angular illustrations, with their circa-1950s flair, keep up the pace throughout this unabashedly joyful Hanukkah romp. (Simon, 2–5 years)

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?The mischievous dinos of author Jane Yolen and illustrator Mark Teague’s How Do Dinosaurs…? series tackle Hanukkah traditions and observances in How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? First the dinosaurs (with human parents) model bad behavior — peeking at presents and hoarding dreidels — but by mid-book they’ve settled down to demonstrate proper decorum. Bouncy rhymes and humorous illustrations combine to make this a welcome entry in Hanukkah book collections. (Blue Sky/Scholastic, 2–5 years)

Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel stars “a very clever bear,” “a very foolish Bubba Brayna”…and a very confused rabbi. Ninety-seven-year-old Bubba Brayna, known far and wide for her delicious latkes (but not for her eagle eyes or keen hearing), is expecting the rabbi for dinner. When a hungry latke-seeking bear stumbles into her home, she mistakes the creature for the rabbi and treats it like an honored guest (Bubba Brayna: “I’ll light the candles. Will you say the blessings?” Bear: “Rrrumph”). The silliness of the folkloric setup plays out well in Mike Wohnoutka’s vivacious acrylic illustrations. A latke recipe is appended. (Holiday, 3–7 years)

In Jamie Korngold’s Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, Sadie and her classmates are excited to make their own menorahs. While they mold and shape and paint, their teacher, Morah Rachel, tells them about the holiday. On Friday Sadie is thrilled to take home her special pink and blue creation, but she trips, shattering the menorah into “a million, zillion pieces.” Luckily the shammash remains intact — a Hanukkah miracle! — and a new tradition begins. The family from Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast and Sadie and the Big Mountain again demonstrates how kindness and creativity can overcome small (but they seem huge) setbacks. Illustrations filled with Hanukkah cheer capture both the bustling and the quiet times of Sadie’s classroom; light-infused pictures of the family at home radiate warmth. (Kar-Ben, 3–7 years)

Gorilla Esther, star of Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster written by Jane Sutton, tries to be a good friend for Hanukkah, but the gifts she picks out are all spectacular failures, from huge socks for her diminutive monkey pal, Sarah, to a jogging suit for slow turtle Josephine. Esther feels terrible — until on the last night of Hanukkah she throws a party at which everyone swaps his or her earlier present for one that suits them perfectly. Andy Rowland’s vivid mixed-media illustrations filled with amusing details (see the shopping list on Esther’s fridge) accompany this silly and engaging story. (Kar-Ben, 3–7 years)

The Story of HanukkahIn straightforward, accessible text, David Adler’s The Story of Hanukkah details King Antiochus IV’s coronation, his oppression of Jews, and triumphant revolt by the Maccabees. The narrative concludes with modern-day observances of events; a recipe for latkes and instructions for the dreidel game are appended. Jill Weber’s acrylic illustrations, richly accented with deep blues and luminous golds, recall ancient friezes and ceramics. (Holiday, 4–8 years)

Chanukah LightsAuthor Michael J. Rosen and paper engineer Robert Sabuda’s satisfying pop-up Chanukah Lights travels around the globe and through the ages showing places where menorahs have been lit. On each spread, the background is brightly painted while the pop-up elements are white — except for a cleverly hidden lit menorah.  brief text takes readers from the first night of Hanukkah to the last throughout this uplifting volume, which demands repeat viewings. (Candlewick, 4–8 years)

In Barbara Brown’s Hanukkah in Alaska, a girl has the winter blahs. For one thing, it’s dark all the time. For another, there’s a moose living in her backyard and eyeing her swing. Not even Hanukkah gifts can cheer her up — until the aurora borealis lights up the night (“our very own Hanukkah Festival of Lights,” as her dad calls it). The text incorporates some facts about Alaska, the northern lights, and moose behavior (though do they really love latkes?). Luminous acrylic and gouache paintings by Stacey Schuett reflect the “rainbow on black velvet” that is the aurora borealis. (Holt, 4–8 years)

Bears Boris, a Russian musician, and Stella, an Italian baker, are in love. When the eighth night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve, each sells his or her most treasured possession (Stella, her pine tree; Boris, his dreidel collection) for money to buy the other a special gift. Author/illustrator Dara Goldman’s Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift brings a new angle to “The Gift of the Magi” story by having the characters of different faiths celebrate each other’s traditions. The illustrations express the warm glow of the holidays, with gentle visual humor throughout. (Sleeping Bear, 4–8 years)

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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