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Chanukah at the Chorn Book

“Oh Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah / Come eat the menorah…”

The Festival of Lights begins at sundown tomorrow, Tuesday, December 16. Here are some recent Hanukkah-themed picture books to enjoy (by candlelight?). Reviews are from The Horn Book Magazine‘s Holiday High Notes and from The Horn Book Guide Online. For more Horn Book Hanukkah recommendations click on the tag hanukkah-books.

My fellow Sydney Taylor Book Award committee members and I will be spending our eight crazy nights reading, reading, reading, and deliberating, deliberating, deliberating. Stay tuned for the awards announcement in early January. Not that I can be swayed (though feel free to try by sending chocolate gelt!), but any favorite Jewish-themed books this year?

balsley_ABC-Hanukkah-HuntABC Hanukkah Hunt
by Tilda Balsley; illus. by Helen Poole
Preschool    Kar-Ben    32 pp.
9/13    978-1-4677-0420-5    Paper ed. 978-1-4677-0421-2

“It’s Hanukkah from A to Z / An alphabet of things to see.” Rhyming couplets very loosely describe Hanukkah’s story and traditions, from King Antiochus to bedtime “Zzzzzzzzz.” The format is too constrained to impart significant information about the holiday, but kids will get a cursory introduction. Bright illustrations featuring pink-cheeked, Rugrats-looking children playing with dreidels and making latkes accompany the text.

fischer_latke the lucky dogLatke, the Lucky Dog
by Ellen Fischer; 
illus. by Tiphanie Beeke
Preschool, Primary    Kar-Ben    24 pp.
9/14    978-0-7613-9038-1   Paper ed. 978-0-7613-9039-8
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-4669-4

On the first night of Hanukkah, a family adopts a little golden-brown dog and names it Latke. As the family celebrates the Festival of Lights, Latke joins in, thinking, “I am one lucky dog!” But he has a lot to learn about how to behave. This engaging romp follows Latke as he chews his way through the eight nights of Hanukkah. Told in Latke’s voice, the story highlights the holiday’s traditions as well as the love between the dog and his new family. Cheerful textured illustrations capture all of Latke’s mischief.

guthrie_honeyky hanukahHoneyky Hanukah
by Woody Guthrie; 
illus. by Dave Horowitz
Preschool, Primary    Doubleday    24 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-37926-7    $17.99

Guthrie’s lively Hanukkah ditty exudes folksiness and warmth, and this jaunty picture-book treatment captures the homespun energy of the lyrics. Horowitz’s animated construction paper, charcoal, and colored-pencil art features a curly-haired, barefoot, guitar-playing boy who tells listeners about his loving family’s holiday traditions. “Latkes and goody things” in Bubbie’s kitchen, menorah candles, music- and merry-making, hugs and kisses, gifts — they’re all part of the celebration. An illustrator’s note offers insight into the genesis of Guthrie’s Jewish songs. The Klezmatics perform a rousing rendition of the song on the accompanying CD. Read the book, listen to the CD, and get into the Hanukkah mood.

kimmel_hershelHershel and the Hanukkah Goblins: 25th Anniversary Edition
by Eric Kimmel; illus. by Trina Schart Hyman
Primary    Holiday    32 pp. (New ed.)
7/14    978-0-8234-3164-9   Paper ed. 978-0-8234-3194-6

This original story in the tradition of Yiddish tales about Hershel Ostropolier is welcome as a Hanukkah story and as a trickster tale. Hershel rids a village of goblins that are haunting a synagogue, preventing the villagers from celebrating Hanukkah. Hyman’s illustrations capture Hershel’s humor and earthy, peasant quality. This anniversary edition of the Caldecott Honor book includes afterwords by the author and the publisher.

kimmel_simon and the bearSimon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale
by Eric A. Kimmel; 
illus. by Matthew Trueman
Primary    Disney-Hyperion    40 pp.
9/14    978-1-4231-4355-0

Young immigrant Simon travels to America on a ship whose fate mirrors that of the Titanic, but this ship sinks on Hanukkah, a holiday that encourages faith in miracles. Simon gives another passenger his spot on a lifeboat and camps out on an iceberg. Sharing his latkes with a polar bear pays off in body heat and fish, and soon his Hanukkah candles bring about his rescue by catching the attention of a passing ship. Illustrations with frequent images of light in darkness combine with the recurring theme of miracles to evoke the Hanukkah spirit.

kimmelman_SamandcharlieSam and Charlie (and Sam Too) Return!
by Leslie Kimmelman; illus. by William Owl
Younger    Whitman    40 pp.
3/14    978-0-8075-7215-3

In their second early chapter book, neighbor best friends Sam (boy) and Charlie (girl), along with Charlie’s little sister (also named Sam), go through a year together, celebrating changing seasons, new friendships, and several Jewish holidays. The characters’ quirky and offbeat personalities shine in their interactions and also through Owl’s sunny, colorful illustrations. Subtle lessons about the holidays are apparent but not overpowering.

pinkwater_beautiful yetta's hanukkah kittenBeautiful Yetta’s Hanukkah Kitten
by Daniel Pinkwater; 
illus. by Jill Pinkwater
Preschool, Primary    Feiwel    32 pp.
10/14    978-0-312-62134-6

In this sequel to Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken (rev. 7/10), the Brooklyn-based Jewish-mama hen and her Spanish-speaking parrot pals find a cold, lost kitten during Hanukkah. The parrots are trepidatious (“Can it fly up to our nest?”), but Yetta knows just what to do: “We will take her to the old grandmother!” Kitten and Bubbie find companionship — and the birds all benefit from some homemade potato latkes. The breezy speech-bubble text is in English and, depending on who’s talking, Spanish or Yiddish (including, for both foreign languages, phonetic pronunciation). Energetic marker, brush pen, and pen-and-ink illustrations in a limited palette — parrot green, hen white-and-red, kitten orange, and Hanukkah blue — fly off the pages.

yacowitz_i know an old lady who swallowed a dreidelI Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel
by Caryn Yacowitz; 
illus. by David Slonim
Primary    Levine/Scholastic    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-439-91530-4

The American Gothic parody on the 
first wordless spread — showing Ma 
and Pa, a boy, a cat…and a menorah — previews this freewheeling volume, part warm family holiday story, part art appreciation book, and part cumulative rhyme. Yacowitz’s clever Hanukkah-themed text lists the items swallowed by the bubbie: latkes, gelt, candles, dreidel (“Perhaps it’s fatal” is the refrain). Slonim’s humorous cartoony illustrations — a well-designed mix of spreads and panels — tell their own story, courtesy of the old masters. Bubbie stands in for the Mona Lisa, the figure in The Scream, and Rodin’s Thinker; homages to Warhol, Rockwell, van Gogh, Wyeth, Hopper (“Mel’s All-Night Latkes” diner), and others make cameo appearances. An artist’s note is appended.

wohl_eighthmenorahThe Eighth Menorah
by Lauren L. Wohl; illus. by Laura Hughes
Primary    Whitman    32 pp.
10/13    978-0-8075-1892-2

“Sam’s family already had lots of menorahs. They didn’t need another one.” This is Sam’s predicament as he makes a Hanukkah menorah with his Hebrew school class. Sam’s distress about this problem seems excessive, but it’s resolved in a touching, if expected, way. The delicately rendered illustrations feature a loving family. Instructions for playing dreidel are (somewhat incongruously) appended.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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