Celebrate Hanukkah

   Hanukkah, meaning "dedication" in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev--part of the Hebrew calendar--and lasts eight days. This year Hanukkah is celebrated on December 8th until the 16th.

   In 168 BCE the Temple of Jerusalem had been desecrated and Jews murdered by the Syrians, led by Antiochus IV. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. When the Temple was being cleansed and rebuilt, there was only enough olive oil (needed for the menorah in the Temple which was required to burn throughout the night every night as part of the ceremony) to last one day, yet it burned for eight days.

   Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is observed by the lighting of the Menorah, a candelabrum with nine branches. Each night one candle is lit, continuing for eight nights. The ninth branch on the menorah, which is called the shamash, is typically positioned in the center and raised above the other branches; it is used to light the other candles.

   The story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Torah because the events that the holiday commemorates occurred after the holy book was written. It is a relatively minor holiday in Jewish faith but due to its overlap with Christmas has, particularly in North America, grown into a larger commercial holiday.

   The books in this feature are recently published titles to use in the classroom, library, and at home with young readers. To discover more titles search CLCD for "Hanukkah" and "Chanukah."

Contributor: Emily Griffin


Chanukah Lights
Michael J. Rosen
Illustrated by Robert Sabuda

This book is another spectacular construction by Robert Sabuda. Rosen's text, which describes the many lands in which Chanukah has been celebrated, from the ancient Holy Land through nomadic desert tribes, to ships bound to other lands such as the West Indies, Eastern Europe, to an Israeli kibbutz, and, ultimately, America. The path of the journey follows the rotation of the Earth, from east to west. Of course, as in any Sabuda book, the text takes a back seat to the paper engineering and this construct is nothing short of spectacular. Each pop-up is slightly more elaborate and bigger than the one preceding it. The paper architecture is all in white against earthy backgrounds, but each set-up includes a menorah hiding in a window with the appropriate number of lights for each night of the holiday. Finally, the last fold-out, the one of a modern city, is painted in pastel colors and the menorah is the shape of the skyscrapers in the background. Robert Sabuda doesn't create books; he creates family treasures and this volume is no exception and clearly will be handed down from generation to generation. 2011, Candlwick Press, Ages 5 to 10, $34.99. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780763655334

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama
Selina Alko

December becomes a complicated month for some children with families who celebrate different traditions. This little girl's parents decided they would celebrate both traditions-Christian and Jewish-in their own special way. The reader hears about the holiday preparations, such as latkes and milk for Santa, gelt under the Christmas tree, and candy canes hung from the menorah. Family members from both sides of the family arrive for a festive meal on the last night of Hanukkah where food and stories from both traditions are shared by everyone. At the end of the book, the little girl and her parents are shown against a timeline of holidays they will celebrate all year long. There is a recipe for cranberry kugel dressing that they use to stuff their turkey. Alko's illustrations are in gouache and colored pencil, with collage that adds significant interest. Note the papers used to create steam emanating from the turkey, the latkes, and a cup of coffee. The artwork creatively shows how both traditions joyfully come together in this house, from the busy days of decorating and food preparation, to the quiet relaxation of their Christmas morning. Children who celebrate both traditions will have fun identifying each and will be happy to see a story about a child like themselves. This could also be a fine introduction for children who celebrate only one of these traditions but have friends who celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. The upbeat, positive tone of the text and clever details in the drawings and collages broaden the audience for this title. 2012, Alfred A Knopf/Random House Children's Books, Ages 3 to 7, $16.99. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780375860935

Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap
Deborah Bodin Cohen
Illustrated by Sharar Kober

It's Hanukkah and Engineer Ari is off in his train to celebrate the holiday with his friends, Jessie and Nathaniel. He is carrying traditional sufganiyot (jelly donuts), dreidels, and Turkish coins. His Hannukiah (the correct name for the holiday candelabra) travels with him, too. Along the way, he passes children playing Maccabees and Syrians which leads to a streamlined retelling of the Hanukkah story. Interestingly, the way the story is phrased implies that there were not one but two Hanukkah miracles, the second being the defeat of the greater Syrian army by the small band of Jewish guerilla fighters. Little girls near the tracks play dreidel, but since the story takes place in Jerusalem, the letters on the spinning toy represent, "A miracle happened here," rather than the Diaspora translation of, "A miracle happened there." As Ari takes off on his journey, his train is derailed by a wayward camel and his presents are spilled from the train. A friendly Bedouin shepherd helps to retrieve the gifts and offers Ari traditional hospitality as they share Ari's celebration on the first night of the holiday. By the time Jessie and Ari arrive from Jaffa to help right the train, Ari has solidified a new friendship and discovered that he is celebrating the holiday on the actual site of the Maccabees' uprising. There's a lot of good historical information packed into this charming book, and the synopsized story of the origin of the holiday is perfectly woven into the story of new friends, old traditions, all illustrated with cheery and colorful pictures children will love. 2011, Kar-Ben Publishers/Lerner, Ages 3 to 7, $7.95. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780761351467

The Hanukkah Hop!
Erica Silverman
Illustrated by Steven D'Amico

What a delightful little book! The glossary appears at the front--before any Yiddish or Hebrew words have been used. The only descriptive word I can think of for the rhymes is "rollicking." Rachel and her family are decorating their house for their Hanukkah party, and even the cat (Kitzel) and dog (Doodle) have something to do--although chasing dreidels and sneaking donuts from the table probably aren't what the parents had in mind. Outside the living room window, Rachel can see a city street, with planes, trains, cars, motorbikes, and even campers--and they're all coming to her house! Well, no, they're not all coming to her house, but the relatives and friends who all seem to arrive at once have come in every conveyance possible. This city scene is my favorite in the whole book. Streetlights are lit, there are piles of snow at the curbs and on an awning, and some windows--but not all of them--have lights on. The snowflakes are flashing six-pointed stars. The few pedestrians on the street look as if they're hurrying! After the menorahs are lit, "Mommy tells the story of the band of Maccabees..." and then it is time for dreidels and latkes. The surprise of the night is the appearance of the klezmer band! The dancing and singing seem to go on for hours, and even after the guests and musicians have all gone to sleep (on chairs, sofas, and cots) Rachel is still dancing. Read it again--this is too much fun for a one-time read. Recommended. 2011, Simon & Schuster, Ages 4 to 8, $12.99. Reviewer: Judy Silverman (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781442406049

Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
Olga Ivanov and Aleksey Ivanov

Three generations of a Jewish family, plus their goofy dog, celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah with the "other" traditional song. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah doesn't have quite the cachet of I Have a Little Dreidel with elementary school choirs, but perhaps this will give teachers an overdue alternative. The song sheet is printed in the front of the book with an after note that explains the tune's origin as a 19th century folk song to which Hebrew words were added. The joyous, smiling family lights the Hanukkiah and eats a traditional dinner that includes latkes with sour cream and apple sauce. Mom, dad, the kids and the dog dance a happy hora while the candles burn and the children open simple gifts, a flute and a dreidel. This brings to mind the Hanukkah Harry skit on Saturday Night Live where Jewish children got underwear for the holiday to explain why it doesn't compete with Christmas. However, the dog seems ecstatic with his holiday bone. Grandad, father, and son are wearing kippot for the celebration, but all indications are that this is a modernly observant family. The illustrations are the best part of the book—bright, cheery, and with a final reminder of the holiday's origins depicted by an ancient Hebrew family lighting candles in the son's imagination. Overall, this will be a winner for holiday sharing of an old, familiar song. 2011, The PJ Library/Marshall Cavendish Corporation, Ages 3 to 7, $12.99. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780761458456

Happy Hanukkah, Curious George
H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey

The titular monkey bends his inquisitive gaze upon Hanukkah in this playful board book. Through illustrations based on the iconic work of originators Margaret and H.A. Rey, youngsters can see George and his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat, visiting the man's extended family for the Festival of Lights. George watches the man light the menorah, and he spins the dreidel with the children, eats all his gelt and helps to make latkes. Seven poems convey the rituals and traditions in language that will connect with a young child, but the pictures of George are what will truly engage. One shows the bescarved simian exulting in the falling snow, another reveals him sniffling over the latke onions, and a third depicts his excited acceptance of his Hanukkah gift--a beribboned banana. 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 1 to 4, $7.99. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780547941868

Jodie's Passover Adventure
Anna Levine
Illustrated by Ksenia Topaz

Many books tell children about the Jewish holidays. Anna Levine, however, uses the holiday cycle to introduce young children to Israeli archeology. In this story, Jodie's cousin Zach is visiting Jerusalem during Passover. She suggests that they visit Hezekiah's Tunnel, and explains why it was dug. The next day, the two of them walk through the Old City to the ancient tunnel. Below ground, Jodie explains why the air smells bad, and tells Zach that the scratches on the wall were chipped by the ancient excavators. They find the "riddle in the middle," evidence that the diggers met precisely, without any navigational tools. They also find an old coin, which Jodie's father packs up for his students to investigate. While Anna Levine's books are titled as holiday fare, there is only a single reference to Pesach here. Rather, this book (like Jodie's Hanukkah Dig, 2008) is actually an introduction to archeology, a very different topic. Children should be intrigued by the questions the book raises. The series can provide them with a way to ask about the past, as well as confidence that they too can make interesting discoveries. In this spirit, Jodie's Passover Adventure is a worthwhile means to tell this age group about gathering evidence and looking (and feeling) for clues. As a holiday book, however, it is unsuccessful. 2012, Kar-Ben, Ages 2 to 8, $7.95. Reviewer: Fred Isaac (Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews, May/June 2012 (Vol. 2, No. 2)).
ISBN: 9780761356417

Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles
Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Nicole Katzman
Illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau

Jacob loves Hanukkah, but is frustrated with the way it's celebrated at his house. His brother Nathan, a boy on the autism spectrum, obsesses about the holiday and ruins the night by blowing out the candles as if they were on a birthday cake. When a new friend, Steven, moves into the neighborhood, Jacob is happy to have someone to play with but Steven is not tolerant of Nathan's differences. When Steven and Jacob try to spin dreidls, Nathan fixates on the whirling motion and Steven proclaims Nathan "weird," and Jacob must deal with the conflicts and embarrassment felt by many siblings of kids with special needs. This is an important book on many levels. Not only does it address how family's deal with a child's differences in the home, but it validates Jacob's exasperation of making allowances for Nathan. Jacob is not chastised or told that his emotions are wrong, but his parents do expect him to be understanding which is hard for any youngster. When Jacob prays for a Hanukkah miracle that Nathan could be like other kids, we learn how deeply sensitive he is to the situation. Jacob tries to explain Nathan's "faulty wiring" to Steven, but Steven isn't an automatic convert. Only Jacob's construction of an edible menorah, "Nathan-style," convinces Steven that different is sometimes okay. This Hanukkah book has heart and an important message, both for families that share the experience of raising a child with autism and those who wish they could make their children kinder to children with disabilities. 2011, Kar-Ben Publishing/Lerner, Ages 4 to 8, $7.95. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780761366577

Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee
Edward Einhorn

If the classic Abbott and Costello routine, "Who's On First?" was done as a Hanukkah play, this book might be the script. The rhythms of the early dialogue feel very much like an old vaudeville routine. The playwright asks the audience to suspend belief and accept that a modern teen, Jonathan, has encountered the historical Judah Maccabee in a secluded room of a synagogue. The past and present intertwine as Judah believes he is in the ancient temple preserved in the Hanukkah story, and Jonathan believes that Judah has appeared with the help of a magical dreidel carved by his father before he went off to an unnamed war. That Jonathan is the son of a soldier, and Judah was a soldier with a son named Jonathan is one of the pretenses of the play. Jonathan is worried about his soldier/father who has been out of touch. Because Jonathan's father is away, Hanukkah will not be the same, as we are led to understand that Jonathan's mother does not "do" the holiday with the same verve as his father. Judah is the device that allows Jonathan to explain modern holiday practices to the audience since, in Judah's day, the holiday did not exist. The battles that Jews celebrate were part of Judah's present. It's actually very existential to think of Judah Maccabee celebrating the events in which he participated. There is an explanation of the original use of the dreidel (it was used for gambling), the number of arms of the original menorah (seven, not eight of the contemporary Hanukkiah), and some sketchily dispatched accounts of the Maccabean battles with the Seleucids. A larger cast would make this a more useful classroom tool, since everyone wants to be in a play. Discussion questions are included. 2011, Theater 61 Press, Ages 6 to 14, $14.95. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780977019748

Tea Cakes for Tosh
Kelly Starling Lyons
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

A lovely book for any youngster, whether your family is honoring the generosity of Christmas, the mitzvahs of Hanukkah or the Kwanzaa principles of umoja (unity) and kuumba (creativity). Tosh loves helping his grandmother, Honey, to make the cookies baked by his ancestor, Ida. An enslaved cook on a plantation, Ida would sneak some of these tea cakes to the young slaves, giving them a "taste of sweet freedom," according to Honey's stories. When Honey starts becoming forgetful, Tosh becomes the one to make the cookies and to tell his beloved grandmother the tea-cake family story she first shared with him. Soft-toned watercolors by Caldecott Honoree E. B. Lewis evoke the sense of love and generational connection at the heart of this tender tale by Kelly Starling Lyons. 2012, G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin, Ages 3 to 9, $16.99. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780399252136

A Touch of Chanukah: A Touch and Feel Book
Sylvia Rouss
Illustrated by Boruch Becker

Two board books published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch (the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch) appropriate for ages 2-5 are accurate, make sense, teach about the holiday, and are fun to read no matter what level of Jewish observance or nonobservance is practiced by the reader. In A Touch of Shabbat the reader can sniff wine, feel a velvet challah cover, touch scales on fish, and feel a shiny, silky white tablecloth. In A Touch of Chanukah children can feel a sticky jelly doughnut, crispy latkes, and waxy candles. The children and adults in Boruch Becker's realistic, colorful illustrations are handsome and well dressed. Both books are highly recommended for the preschool collection of all libraries. 2011, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, Ages 2 to 5, $9.95. Reviewer: Ilka Gordon (Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews, February/March 2012 (Vol. 2, No. 1)).
ISBN: 9780826600134

Updated 12/1/12

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