Thursday, December 10, 2020

Four Picture Books For Hanukkah

This has been a particularly hard year for everyone so I'm really glad the holidays have arrived. I don't like it when the days are so short, so I really love to see all the Hanukkah and Christmas lights. But what I really love are the holiday books that I can read with my young readers. Right now, we are reading Hanukkah picture books and I would like to share some of them with you now.

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl,
illustrated by Shahar Kober
Sterling Children's Books, 2020, 40 pages
It's the first night of Hanukkah and Rachel and Max are very excited. But the family has just moved into a new apartment and no one can find the box marked Hanukkah. That means no menorah and candles to light and no dreidel to play with. Each night of Hanukkah, Rachel and Max decide to make do, but soon discover something else they are missing from their usual celebration. Luckily, they have neighbors who can help them out - one offers birthday candles, another offers french fries in place of latkes, still another has chocolate chips in place of Hanukkah gelt with which to play dreidel, and the funny papers are offered to wrap presents, and, one neighbor makes jelly sandwiches in place of the traditional jelly donuts. On the night after the eight night of Hanukkah, Rachel, Max and their parents invite all the neighbors in to thank them for their all their help throughout their celebration. But there's a surprise delivery and only one thing left to do - celebrate a ninth night of Hanukkah. This is a sweet story about neighbors helping neighbors. And it is a delightfully diverse building that the new family has moved into, so you know there will be many diverse holidays celebrated there. I loved that Rachel and Max never felt sorry for themselves, and got right into trying to celebrate their holiday despite the obstacles and being flexible with making do.  

The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol
by Arthur A. Levine, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Candlewick Press, 2020, 40 pages
Nate Gadol is a larger than life figure in this story whose main task is to make things last longer than they are expected to. Big things like making the little bit of oil last 8 days and nights long ago or turning the small lump of chocolate saved by Mrs. Glaser for her children to celebrate Purim into three larger pieces as they sail to their new home in America. And the Glasers are just as friendly and helpful, especially when it comes to sharing (with a little help from NateGadol) with their neighbors, the O'Malleys. One year, Christmas and Hanukkah arrive on the same day, along with a terrible blizzard. Poor Santa and his sleigh are completely off kilter. It seems people are having trouble believing that year. Helping out, Nate Gadol takes the chocolate Santa has, and in return, sends him off with a sparkling sleigh full of Nate magic. Next morning, there are presents for everyone - a box of goodies for each of the O'Malleys under their Christmas tree, and big bags of Hanukkah chocolate for each of the Glasers. And that is how gift giving became a Hanukkah tradition. After all, Nate Gadol's name says it all - just as it does on two of the four sides of a dreidel: נג nes gadol = a great miracle. This is a fun book that imagines the answer to the question: why are gifts are given for Hanukkah. But, like most Santa and Rudolf stories, which don't change the true meaning of Christmas, this one doesn't change the real Hanukkah story about the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil that last so long.  
The Eight Knights of Hanukkah 
by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Galia Bernstein
Holiday House, 2020, 48 pages
It's the last night of Hanukkah and Lady Sadie has invited the whole kingdom to celebrate with her and her eight children - all knights - but a dragon named Dreadful is roaming around, ruining the people's Hanukkah preparations. So, she tells her knight children to "fix things with some deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery." Sir Alex carves a new dreidel for a young boy's after Dreadful scorched the one he was playing with. Sir Gabriel helps a lady peel potatoes for the evening's latkes, after Dreadful scared off her helpers. Sir Margaret helps a group of field hands pick apples for applesauce after Dreadful baked the apples they had already picked with his dragon breath. Sir Julian's mitzvah was to bring chicken soup to the sick and lonely, while Sir Lily helped the baker make more jelly donuts after dreadful ate what she had already made. Sir Henry cleaned the castle from top to bottom for the evening's celebration. And finally, Sir Isabella and Sir Ruglach chase down the dragon, and what a surprise - it's just a baby named Rosie. Finally, everyone is ready for the last night of Hanukkah, including baby Rosie who has a unique talent for lighting menorahs. This is such a fun book and really helps the reader understand what making a mitzvah means. And the wordplay, the gender blurring and the community spirit really make this a lively Hanukkah story. 

The Golem's Latkes by Eric A Kimmel,
illustrated by Arron Jasinski
Marshall Cavendish, 2011, 40 pages
It wouldn't feel like Hanukkah without a book by Eric Kimmel and this one one of my favorites. After Rabbi Judah of Prague took a piece of clay and formed it to look like a man, he put a magic word on its forehead and the giant clay man, which he called Golem, came to life. Golem could work hard and long and always do a great job. So when Hanukkah comes around, and Rabbi Judah is very busy, he puts his housemaid Basha in charge of Golem, to clean the house and then to make lots of latkes for his guests that night while he goes out. But, he cautions Basha to never leave Golem alone and always say "Golem, enough" to get him to stop working. But Mary decides that since Golem is such a good worker and has to make so many latkes, she has time to visit her friend Mary. But, Basha loses track of time, and Golem keeps working, peeling potatoes and making latkes. Soon, there are so many latkes they fill the house, then spill out the door, into the street until they top the city walls. When Rabbi Judah and Basha finally get home and yell "Golem, enough" there are latkes everywhere. What to do? Invite everyone to come and enjoy them - for eight days and nights. This is a fun book and a nice rendering of the Golem from Jewish folklore, but with a clear nod to The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The acrylic illustrations are very detailed, and done in a palette of muted earth tones. The Golem, though a giant, is not scary and in fact has a bit of a sense of humor.   

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