Happy Hanukkah from The Horn Book!

Hanukkah begins tonight — we hope your holiday is bright and bookish! Last year Rachel Kamin wrote, “Move Over, Shmelf…There Are Other Books on the Shelf.” She wasn’t kidding. If you’re looking for latke literature, there’s no shortage, from board books introducing the basics of Hanukkah to more complex stories. Here are some recent picture-book additions to the Hanukkanon.

The Story of HanukkahThe Story of Hanukkah
by David A. Adler; illus. by Jill Weber
Primary    Holiday    32 pp.
8/11    978-0-8234-2295-1    $14.95

Adler’s straightforward, accessible retelling of the Hanukkah story begins in Judea at the temple “on top of a mountain and called the House of God...inside was a ner tamid, a light that always burned.” The violence against and oppression of Jews following King Antiochus IV’s coronation is detailed, along with triumphant revolt by the Maccabees. The narrative concludes with rebuilding of the temple — and the great miracle that happened there — along with modern-day observances of events; a recipe for latkes and instructions for the dreidel game are appended. Acrylic illustrations richly accented with deep blues and luminous golds recall ancient friezes and ceramics.

Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah MamaDaddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama
by Selina Alko; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Knopf    32 pp.
9/12    978-0-375-86093-5    $16.99
Library ed.  978-0-375-96093-2    $19.99

Sadie, happily ensconced in two cultures, 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. 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 the stitching together of cultural influences and traditions.

Hanukkah in Alaska
by Barbara Brown; illus. by Stacey Schuett
Primary     Holt     32 pp.
10/13     978-0-8050-9748-1     $16.99     g

In this Alaska-set story (a version of which appeared in A Hanukkah Treasury, edited by Eric A. Kimmel [Holt, 1998]), 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 reflect the “rainbow on black velvet” that is the aurora borealis.

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas
by Pamela Ehrenberg; illus. by Anjan Sarkar
Primary    Farrar    40 pp.
10/17    978-0-374-30444-7    $16.99

It’s almost Hanukkah, and Sadie’s bicultural family is preparing its traditional dosas. The story’s narrator, Sadie’s older brother, explains that his sister’s habit of constantly climbing might be less than helpful to family members making dosas. But when the family gets locked out of the house, Sadie’s climbing skills save the day (and the dosas). Sarkar’s vibrant illustrations focus on the entire family — mom, dad, kids, amma-amma — and work with Ehrenberg’s accessible text to highlight Jewish and Indian cultures. Though the prose is slightly awkward in spots, it inventively blends elements of two traditions (e.g., “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal”). Recipes for dosas and sambar are appended.

Latke, 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.

Jeremy's DreidelJeremy’s Dreidel
by Ellie Gellman; illus. by Maria Mola
Primary    Kar-Ben    32 pp.
9/12    978-0-7613-7507-4    $17.95
Paper ed.  978-0-7613-7508-1    $7.95    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-0060-3    $13.95

Jeremy and his friends are enjoying the dreidel-making workshop at their local Jewish Community Center, especially since the children are being encouraged to be creative and put their own, er, spins on their designs. Jeremy decides to make a Braille dreidel for his blind father, which occasions the provision of much information about how blind people communicate and get around. But there is much info as well about Hanukkah and its miracles; and directions for making the featured dreidels, rules for playing with them, and the Braille alphabet are all appended. The illustrations are a little washed out but agreeably homey.

Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift
by Dara Goldman; illus. by the author
Primary     Sleeping Bear     32 pp.
9/13     978-1-58536-859-4     $15.99     g

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. Goldman 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.

Honeyky 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.

Hanukkah Bear
by Eric A. Kimmel; illus. by Mike Wohnoutka
Preschool, Primary    Holiday     32 pp.
7/13     978-0-8234-2855-7     $16.95

Th is new edition of The Chanukkah Guest (Holiday, 1990), with different illustrations and revised text, 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 the vivacious acrylic illustrations with nary a rough edge in sight. A latke recipe is appended.

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.

Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah
by Jamie Korngold; illus. by Julie Fortenberry
Preschool, Primary     Kar-Ben     24 pp.
9/13     978-0-7613-6493-1     $17.95
Paper ed. 978-0-7613-6495-5     $7.95
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-0051-1     $6.95

The kids in Sadie’s class 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.

Little Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale
by Gloria Koster; illus. by Sue Eastland
Primary    Whitman    32 pp.    g
8/17    978-0-8075-4646-8    $16.99

Ruthie dons her red cape and sets off through the woods to her grandmother’s house. Along the way she encounters a hungry wolf: “Little girl…I am going to…eat you up!” Ruthie fools the creature and escapes, but the wolf makes his way to Bubbe Basha’s house and lies in wait. Bubbe’s running errands, and to kill time the wolf tries on her clothes — not that this fools clever Ruthie, whose quick thinking and latke-making skills solve her wolf problem. The cartoony illustrations and lighthearted text incorporate Hanukkah details and motifs; e.g., twice Ruthie is described as “brave as the Maccabees,” and Bubbe hands the overstuffed villain a jelly donut for the road. A latke recipe is appended.

Hanukkah Delight!
by Lesléa Newman; illus. by Amy Husband
Preschool    Kar-Ben    12 pp.
8/16    978-1-4677-9353-7    $5.99

In lines with simple meter that all rhyme with the second word in the title, this board book runs through the high points of Hanukkah (“Dreidels spinning through the night / Chocolate gelt — come take a bite”) during a friendly eighth-night gathering at a rabbit family’s house. The pastel-toned mixed-media illustrations show the visiting “friends and neighbors” as a congenial assortment of animals, and they include accurate holiday details such as a row of dreidels with correctly ordered Hebrew letters. A very first introduction to blessings, candles, and latkes as well as holiday joy: “Hanukkah — a wondrous sight!”

Hanukkah Is Coming!
by Tracy Newman; 
illus. by Viviana Garofoli
Preschool   Kar-Ben   12 pp.
9/15   978-1-4677-5241-1   $5.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-8837-3   $5.99

The family from Shabbat Is Coming! and other board books in publisher Kar-Ben’s series about Jewish life eagerly awaits the start of Hanukkah. “Winter is near. / Long nights are here. / Hanukkah is coming.” The yarmulke-wearing dad, pigtailed big sister, and strawberry-blondies mother and son — plus cheerful dog — light candles, fry latkes, sing songs, spin dreidels, and pretend to be Maccabees, all shown in warm digital-looking illustrations. The timeline is a titch confusing (are these scenes all in flashback? Is the family doing prep work? Are they imagining what Hanukkah will be like this year?), since it’s not until the last spread that “Hanukkah is here!” But the “Hanukkah is coming” refrain, coupled with simple, child-friendly rhymes, is reassuring, and effectively builds anticipation for the Festival of Lights.

peet_dear santa love rachel rosenstein

Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein
by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer; illus. by Christine Davenier
Primary   Doubleday   40 pp.
10/15     978-0-553-51061-4    $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-51062-1    $20.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-51063-8

Rachel Rosenstein is bummed to be the only kid in her decorated-to-the-hilt neighborhood who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. When her pleas for twinkly lights and a tree go unheeded in her Jewish household, Rachel takes matters into her own hands, festooning the living room with homemade decorations on Christmas Eve and waiting for the big guy to arrive. There’s lots of humor in the text (“Dear Santa…I know that you are a fair person and will not mind that I am Jewish. After all so was Jesus, at least on his mother’s side”) and in the lively, scribbly, colorful illustrations. But the authors wisely don’t gloss over Rachel’s feelings — which can be common for anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas that time of year, a notion that steers the text toward a happy, multi-culti ending.

pinkwater_beautiful yetta's hanukkah kitten

Beautiful 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.

Chanukah LightsChanukah Lights
by Michael J. Rosen; illus. by Robert Sabuda
Primary    Candlewick    16 pp.
9/11    978-0-7636-5533-4    $34.99

Starting in the temple two thousand years ago, this satisfying pop-up travels around the globe and through the ages (desert tent, kibbutz, tall ship, tenement) to show all the 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 representation of a lit menorah. Rosen’s brief text takes the reader from the first night of Hanukkah (two flames) to the last (all nine flames), ending with a modern city in which a menorah towers above all like art deco skyscrapers with gold triangles at the top. This is a satisfying and even uplifting experience that demands repeat viewings.

simon_oskar and the eight blessingsOskar and the Eight Blessings
by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon; illus. by Mark Siegel
Primary, Intermediate     Roaring Brook     40 pp.
9/15     ISBN 978-1-59643-949-8    $17.99

In 1938, the last night of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas Eve, and for a young Jewish refugee in Manhattan, both holidays provided blessings. Following Kristallnacht, Oskar’s parents had put him on a boat to New York with just the name and address of his aunt; his walk from the harbor takes him more than a hundred blocks up Broadway. Along the way he encounters friendly and helpful strangers, Macy’s Christmas windows, and Count Basie and Eleanor Roosevelt (whose historical presence in the city that night is confirmed in an author’s note). The changing light of the day and developing snow are beautifully conveyed in the illustrations, an engaging blend of large and small panels paced to echo the starts and stops and blessings of Oskar’s (successful) journey. An appended map of Manhattan details the route and visually reprises the gifts Oskar receives along the way.

The Hanukkah HopThe Hanukkah Hop!
by Erica Silverman; illus. by Steven D’Amico
Preschool    Simon    32 pp.
10/11    978-1-4424-0604-9    $12.99

On the last night of Hanukkah, with all the candles lit, Rachel’s parents host “our first ever Hanukkah Hop!” Extended family and friends gather in the streamer-festooned, latke-perfumed living room. The evening starts sedately, with Hanukkah story-telling and dreidel-spinning. With the arrival of the Mazel-Tones klezmer band, the celebration ramps up: “Biddy-biddy bim-bom bim-bom bop. / Spin! Swing! Sway! / Dive! Jump! Pop! / The party’s going wild at the Hanukkah Hop!” Like the enthusiastic revelers, Silverman’s gleeful text has rhythm. D’Amico’s angular illustrations, with their circa-1950s flair, keep up the pace, as the partygoers overtake all available space in the living room and on the pages. Readers’ toes are sure to be tapping throughout this unabashedly joyful Hanukkah romp.

singer_parakeet named dreidelThe Parakeet Named Dreidel
by Isaac Bashevis Singer; illus. by Suzanne Raphael Berkson
Primary, Intermediate     Farrar     32 pp.
9/15     ISBN 978-0-374-30094-4    $17.99

In this short story (from The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah, rev. 2/81) repackaged as a picture book, a mysterious Yiddish-speaking parakeet flies to a Jewish family’s window on Hanukkah and promptly earns the name Dreidel. Though the narrator is an adult — with an unusually mature voice for a picture book — the art emphasizes his son David, who is a child for most of the story (and, when he’s older, benefits from Dreidel’s matchmaking skills). This feels like a story a reminiscent zayde might share. Lots of golden light in the cheerful, loose-lined illustrations creates a sense of Hanukkah’s warmth.

A Hanukkah with Mazel
by Joel Edward Stein; illus. by Elisa Vavouri
Primary    Kar-Ben    32 pp.
9/16    978-1-4677-8171-8    $17.99
Paper ed.  978-1-4677-8176-3    $7.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-5124-0936-9    $6.99

Artist Misha doesn’t have much, but he has enough milk to share with the cat he finds in his barn, whom he names Mazel (“luck”). He can’t afford candles, but he has paint and talent enough to add flames to a menorah on a canvas and share a bright Hanukkah with his new friend. But what happens when that new friend’s old friend knocks at the door? Stein’s voice echoes the cadence of Jewish folktales (the story is similar to Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Parakeet Named Dreidel, picture-book version rev. 11/15), and Vavouri’s rich-hued illustrations, particularly those of Misha’s own paintings, are reminiscent of Marc Chagall’s work. A hamish, warm, old-fashioned Hanukkah story.

Yitzi and the Giant Menorah
by Richard Ungar; illus. by the author
Primary    Tundra    32 pp.
9/16    978-1-77049-812-9    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-77049-814-3    $10.99

After the people of Chelm receive a giant menorah from the mayor of nearby Lublin, they spend Hanukkah seeking a way to thank him instead of celebrating. Since Chelm is famous in Jewish folklore for being a city of fools, the townspeople’s plans never quite work out. (A gift of snow? What could go wrong?) It makes for a frustrating Hanukkah for the Chelmites — if an amusing one for readers — until young Yitzi finds a simple, festive solution. The text’s conversational storytelling style invites readers (or listeners) to settle in, while wildly bright watercolor monoprints, often balanced by black-and-white spot art on facing pages, reflect both the Chelmites’ confusion and their sense of wonder. An author’s note gives background on the holiday (though, somewhat foolishly, not on Chelm).

yacowitz_i know an old lady who swallowed a dreidel

I 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.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?
by Jane Yolen; illus. by Mark Teague
Preschool, Primary    Blue Sky/Scholastic    32 pp.
9/12    978-0-545-41677-1    $16.99

Yolen and Teague’s mischievous dinos (How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? among many others) tackle Hanukkah traditions and observances. First the dinosaurs model bad behavior (peeking at presents, blowing out candles, and hoarding dreidels) but by mid-book they've settled down to demonstrate proper decorum. Bouncy rhymes and humorous illustrations — the images of vivacious large-scale dinosaurs alongside the staid, rather Rockwellian humans are consistently funny — combine for a welcome entry in Yolen and Teague’s Dinosaurs series and in holiday book collections.

For more recommended Hanukkah books, click on the tag Hanukkah books. For more books for the winter holiday season, click on the tag Holiday High Notes.
Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She was a 2019-2020 member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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Nice list! I'm with you in really liking Rachel Rosenstein; I know some folks find it "too negative," or think that Rachel should take more joy in Hanukkah, but to me, it's realistic and healthy to acknowledge that sometimes we're just gonna feel left out.

Posted : Dec 12, 2017 10:21


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