Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

More Holiday Book Joy!

More great holiday books to crow about! Let’s take a look!

The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, by Arthur A. Levine/Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9780763697419

Ages 5-8

“Nate Gadol is a great big spirit with eyes as shiny as golden coins and a smile that is lantern bright.” He has the gift of making things last as long as they are needed, whether it’s a tiny bit of oil that needs to stretch for the eight nights of Hanukkah, or a little bit of chocolate that will be enough to give a a family like the Glasers a sweet holiday treat. He sees the Glasers and their neighbors, the O’Malleys, helping one another out all the time, sharing what little they have with one another, so when Nate spots Santa Claus having sleigh trouble on Christmas Eve, he’s happy to figure out how to stretch some holiday magic – and share a special evening with old friends and new. Author Arthur A. Levine was inspired to write this hybrid holiday tale that creates a “supplementary mythology” that has less to do with religion than with the spirit of the holiday season.An author’s note from Mr. Levine explains his inspiration, and the story is a sweet pairing of two holidays. Acyrlic artwork is rich, with lots of texture, and gold foil accents bring a magical element to life. A cheerful holiday story to have available for your readers.

Publisher Candlewick has a free, downloadable activity kit available on their website.

 

Christmas is Joy, by Emma Dodd, (Sept. 2020, Templar Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781536215458

Ages 2-5

The latest in her Love You series, Emma Dodd creates another affectionate story that’s perfect for lapsits and cuddle time. Rhyming verse presents tender holiday musings: “Christmas is joy / that’s overflowing / It’s sparkling eyes / and faces glowing”. Two reindeer take in the wonder of the snow season together and in a group. Digital illustrations are gently colorful, with silver foil effects added for snowy winter magic. Emma Dodd’s books always create a quiet sense of joy when I read them; I hope they do for you, too. A nice choice for your holiday bookshelves.

 

The Worst Christmas Ever, by Kathleen Long Bostrom/Illustrated by Guy Porfirio, (Sept. 2020, Flyaway Books), $17, ISBN: 978-1947888098

Ages 5-8

Matthew is not happy when his family decides to pack up and move to California. He misses his friends, his school, and now, with Christmas coming, he misses snow! Palm trees instead of evergreen? No way! Pink Christmas trees for sale? NOPE. When Matthew’s dog, Jasper, runs away, Matthew is heartbroken and convinced that this will be the worst Christmas ever. His sister, Lucy, is sympathetic, but she is much more excited about the move than Matthew is, and he feels more alone than ever. It will take a special kind of magic during the Christmas Eve church service to save the holiday for Matthew. A story of feeling uprooted and finding the strength to believe, The Worst Christmas Ever is a holiday story with the message of the season at its heart. Illustrations are realistic and expressive, and the relationship between Matthew and Jasper comes across through the artwork. A nice story about believing in miracles for the kids this holiday.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Tis the season to be reading!

You want seasonal books? I got seasonal books. I got Hanukkah books, I got Christmas books, I got winter books, I got all the books: I’m just posting a few at a time, to keep the thrill of the season alive. Join me and enjoy!

The Littlest Candle: A Hanukkah Story, by Rabbis Kerry & Jesse Olitzky/Illustrated by Jen Kostman, (June 2020, Kalaniot Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-9988527-5-1

Hanukkah is coming! The candles are so excited! Who will be the first candle on the menorah this year? The candles all discuss among themselves why each should be the first candle. All except Flicker, the smallest candle in the box, that is. Little Flicker is always the first candle to support his friends, whether it’s through cleaning up the hard to reach areas of the box, or making sure the others have enough to eat. Waxy, the wisest candle, recounts the story of Hanukkah and the importance of each candle in the menorah, and decides to make Little Flicker his helper candle: the shamash.

Soft, cheerful colors and gentle storytelling make this a wonderful Hanukkah story with a great message: “Hanukkah is a reminder that sometimes, even when you are small, you are still capable of miracles”. The cartoony artwork will appeal to all kids, and reminded me of The Day the Crayons Quit. Most of the artwork revolves around the crayons, but there are people in here, too; a family celebrates the season together with the brightly lit menorah burning in the background. Back matter has more to learn about Hanukkah, including the blessings to light the menorah by. Add this to your holiday reading every year, whether you celebrate Hanukkah or another seasonal holiday. It’s got a wonderful message that kids will love to hear.

I’m very excited because Kalaniot Books, The Littlest Candle‘s publisher, is a new imprint that will publish books for children on Jewish culture and history. So I’m hoping to bring more exciting titles to you in the future!

 

Elf, based on the film by David Berenbaum/Illustrated by Kim Smith, (Oct. 2020, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683692409

Ages 4-8

Quirk Books has the best in pop culture books for kids and I am here for it. The newest? This year’s Elf, adapted from the hilarious 2003 movie starring Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. The story of Buddy the Elf, the human raised by Santa’s elves, who goes to find his dad in crazy New York City and ends up saving Christmas is adorably rendered here with cartoon artwork and a mix of narration and word balloons, usually capturing some of the best movie moments. Endpapers bookend the film, showing Buddy at the beginning and end of his journey, and the art is so cheery and colorful, you won’t help but want to read this again and again. Absolutely wonderful, and perfect for a Pop Culture storytime (psst… Quirk publishes picture books about Home Alone 1 and Home Alone 2) along with classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and so many more.

My only question: when do we get a picture book adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story? Come ON!

 

Mouse’s Night Before Christmas, by Tracey Corderoy/Illustrated by Sarah Massini, (Oct. 2020 Nosy Crow), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536214406

Ages 3-7

This sweet take on the classic A Visit from St. Nicholas/’Twas the Night Before Christmas stars a mouse who desperately wants a friend. The lonely mouse lives in a grandfather clock and wishes for a friend to give presents to… when who should land on his roof but old Saint Nick and his reindeer, forced down during a storm! The Mouse happily offers to guide Santa on his way, and spends a happy Christmas Eve as Santa’s helper. When he drops Mouse off, he comforts a disappointed Mouse by reminding him that Christmas isn’t over yet… and Mouse has to discover his own gift. A touching story of friendship, the rhyme is set to the rhythm of the original Clement Moore poem; you’ll fall right into it as you read it out loud. The mixed media illustrations are comforting and warm. Kids will love curling up with this lovable story of finding friends.

 

Gigantosaurus: The Holiday Party, by Cyber Group Studios, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Entertainment), $5.99, ISBN: 9781536213409

Ages 3-7

Gigantosaurus is an animated dinosaur show currently streaming on Netflix and available on Disney Junior and the books have started hitting shelves. Based on the episode The Shortest Day, The Holiday Party Tiny, a triceratops, decides to throw a big party in celebration of the shortest day of the year. She’s planning food, music, presents, and the biggest party ever! But everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and Tiny is devastated. And then Giganto shows up: the big scary guy! Will Tiny’s party be saved? A holiday story about celebrating, friendship, and wrong expectations, The Holiday Party is digitally illustrated and includes both narration and speech bubbles. It’s a fun read for kids who love dinosaurs, and the stickers on the last two pages will make this a super-fun holiday treat. If you’re including this for your library shelves, slice those stickers out and give them away to your kiddos!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Holiday books are coming! Let’s kick off with The Ninth Night of Hanukkah!

I was supposed to have my first holiday post up early this morning, but … 2020, right? But here we are, so let’s get the show on the road. I’m really happy to see more Hanukkah books coming my way this year! This one is sweet, and calls to mind Stone Soup. It’s all about building community this season.

 

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, by Erica Perl/Illustrated by Shahar Kober, (Sept. 2020, Sterling Publishing), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-4549-4088-3

Ages 3-6

It’s Hanukkah, and Max and Rachel have just moved, with their parents, into a new apartment, so there’s a bit of chaos. The box with all the important Hanukkah stuff – the menorah, Dad’s lucky latke pan, the awesome jelly donut recipe – is missing! Each night, Max and Rachel make do by creating a little bit of Hanukkah, with some help from their new neighbors: Mrs. Mendez has some spare candles, Mr. Patel has chocolate chips, and everyone seems happy to help the new neighbors celebrate. The little fixes just are nice, but it just doesn’t feel like Hanukkah. What to do when the eighth night comes and goes? Well, just add a ninth night and invite everyone over to celebrate! There are nine candles on the menorah, right? A sweet story about community and the holiday, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah shows readers the power of community and infuses a little bit of holiday magic at the end. Back matter includes an author’s note and tips for creating your own “Shamash Night”.

Go to author Erica Perl’s author website for a free, downloadable Event Kit that includes reader’s theatre, decorations, invitations, and more!

Author Erica Perl will be at a Zoom event on December 13th, in celebration of the 2020 Jewish Federation Book Festival! Get your spot now!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A new Hanukkah book from the author of Sammy the Spider!

I am so excited to talk up a new Hanukkah book! I received an e-mail from Sylvia Rouss, the author of the adorable Sammy the Spider series of books, inviting me to take a look at her new book, The Hanukkah Fable. I really enjoyed Sammy the Spider’s First Hanukkah, and having such a popular series author get in touch made my day. So let’s take a look at The Hanukkah Fable of Little Dreidel and Silver Menorah.

The Hanukkah Fable of Little Dreidel and Silver Menorah, by Sylvia Rouss/Illustrated by TL Derby,
(Nov. 2019, MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1643720517
Ages 3-8

 

It’s the last night of Hanukkah, and a family gathers at the table to sing their blessings. When they head into the kitchen to start bringing out the food, the silver menorah notices that the wooden dreidel looks a little downcast; upon asking, we learn that dreidel is sad because the family gushed over the beautiful Silver Menorah, while the Wooden Dreidel went seemingly unnoticed. With a little Hanukkah magjc, Silver Menorah helps Dreidel turn into a lovely blue, to match the tablecloth! But Dreidel still goes unnoticed, so Silver Menorah helps Dreidel try on a few other colors until, finally, he ends up back in its original wooden form and learns that being true to oneself is the best way to be.

This is a sweet Hanukkah story with a wonderful moral: embrace who you are. You have no idea how important you may be to someone. The story has some rhyme and repetition in the form of Silver Menorah’s magic rhyme, “Spin around once and count to three and [color] is the color that you’ll be”. This adds a nice bit of interactivity to a storytime: hand out colorful dreidels if you have them, or colorful paper or scarves; invite the kids to stand up and twirl, like Dreidel, and call out their colors! Back matter includes a traditional Hanukkah song and prayers said when lighting the candles, and a note about Hanukkah.

TL Derby’s illustrations are bold and vibrant; both Silver Menorah and Dreidel have expressive facial expressions, and Silver Menorah looks sparkly and textured, like a mixed media rendering using foil.

Sylvia Rouss is the author of over 50 children’s picture books, most notably the Sammy the Spider series. Her books have received numerous awards, including the National Jewish Book Award, Sydney Taylor Award, Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, and Storytelling World Award.

TL Derby is a children’s book author and illustrator with a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment and an MFA In Creative Writing.

 

Posted in picture books

More Hanukkah books to brighten your celebrations!

I’ve got two modern classics to get into today, both by authors I’m a big fan of. Let’s jump in!

The Story of Hanukkah, by David A. Adler/Illustrated by Jill Weber, (June 2012, Holiday House), $6.99, ISBN: 9780823425471

Ages 5-8

My biography shelves are loaded with books by David A. Adler. He does phenomenal nonfiction writing for kids, and his Story of Hanukkah is a wonderfully comprehensive history of the holiday helped me understand more about the Hanukkah celebration. Adler’s factual text is enhanced by Jill Weber’s acrylic illustrations, portraying life in Biblical Judea, the Greek push to dominate, and Mattathias’ refusal to worship the Greek gods, along with his flight into the hills and subsequent rebellion against the Greeks. The bright, primary color artwork shows an epic battle between the Greek soldiers and the Maccabees, with a spreads featuring charging horsemen and war elephants, and hand-to-hand combat (the combatants look more knocked silly than anything else, for more delicate readers), and there are heart-warming modern family moments to conclude the story, as today’s families celebrate, Adler writes, “one of the first fights for religious freedom”. A tasty latke recipe and instructions on how to play the dreidel game round out the back matter, and blue endpapers with Hanukkah symbols – dreidels, scrolls, menorahs, gelt, and more – make this a lovely addition to your nonfiction holiday collections, and a great gift for your younger celebrants.

 

Zigazak! A Magical Hanukkah Night, by Eric A. Kimmel/Illustrated by Jon Goodell, (Sept. 2001, Doubleday Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0385326520

Ages 4-8

A hilarious tale of Hanukkah magic, Zigazak! takes place on the first night of Hanukkah, in the Belarus town of Brisk. Two little devils – they’re more tricksters than flat-out evil – decide to have some fun by starting some trouble around the town. They make dreidels sprout limbs and dance, they make latkes fly, they even make candles explode! The people are up in arms! What can they do? They ask the rabbi for help, and help he does: he finds the fun in the devils’ mischief, and tricks them at their own game. When he offers to free the devils and turn them into spirits of light, they push back: they like being bad! But try as they might, the rabbi will not be intimidated, and manages to convince them to turn themselves into cockroaches. One crunch later, the town of Brisk is back to celebrating Hanukkah, devil-free.

Zigazak! is a story that’s just made for out-loud reading, with the repeated magic titular phrase providing the perfect opportunity for getting the kids involved. Expect squeals and shrieks, because cockroaches are just awful. Eric A. Kimmel (whose similar tale of Hanukkah mischief, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, received a Caldecott Honor in 1990) weaves a masterful tale of mischief and morality, with delightfully goofy goblins illustrated by Jon Goodell. Goodell’s realistic artwork gives readers expressive characters reacting in horror as Hanukkah icons come to life, and a wise rabbi who exudes calm and wisdom. The most important part of Zigazak? Eric A. Kimmel’s belief, via the rabbi of Brisk: “…if we look hard enough, we can find the good in all living creatures”.

If you’ve never enjoyed this tale before, run to your holds list and add it. You’ll be happy you did.

 

 

Posted in Early Reader, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Epic Hanukkah Books Post!

Happy Hanukkah, everyone! I’ve been browsing a lot of lists, and found some books for the season to share with you. There aren’t nearly as many Hanukkah or Kwanzaa books as there are Christmas books, so most of these are not brand spankin’ new, but I’m still excited to spread the joy of the season with everyone. Let’s dig in.

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, by Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky, (Sept. 2018, Schwartz & Wade Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399554193

Ages 4-8

Based on the All-of-a-Kind Family series of books (1951-1958) by Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah celebrates Hanukkah with the All-of-a-Kind Family in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th Century. Four-year old sister, Gertie, is desperate to be part of the Hanukkah preparation, but Mama says she’s just too young to help make the latkes: she can get hurt by the potato peeler, cut herself with the knife, and get splattered by the hot oil. Frustrated, Gertie yells and stomps her feet, which earns her some thinking time in the girls’ bedroom; but Papa comes home and gives Gertie a very special Hanukkah task, and the family – Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, Papa, Mama, and Uncle Hyman – enjoy their first night of Hanukkah meal together.

I haven’t read Sydney Taylor’s series since I was in grade school, but All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah brought me right back to the warm feeling of family I always had, reading these books. Paul O. Zelinsky’s artwork wonderfully sets the tone for the story, with a look at the lower east side’s crushed together tenement buildings and bustling city streets. He captures little Gertie’s spirit on every page, whether she’s dancing through the snow, placing herself in the middle of holiday preparation, or communicating her frustration at being too young to be part of the action. Bold lines and warm colors draw readers right in, and intimate family moments, like Gertie being held by her sisters or Papa holding his daughter after a long day (for both of them), bring all the love from their family to yours. I love the humorous moments, like Papa searching for Gertie as she’s hiding under the bed, asking a pillow or library book where his daughter is; it’s a sweet twist on the whole “wait ’til your father gets home!” business, and it reveals a playful nature in this family. Emily Jenkins has fully realized the family dynamic here, and Paul Zelinsky gives them life.

Back matter includes a glossary, an author note putting the story into historical context and her own relationship with Sydney Taylor’s books. An illustrator note talks about Paul Zelinsky’s deliberate decisions when making choices for the story’s artwork. There’s also a link to extra back matter, including downloadable coloring pages, educator resources, and a latke recipe.

An essential addition to your holiday collections, and a comforting storytime read. All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and has been written up by The New York Times and the Jewish Book Council.

Grover’s Eight Nights of Light, by Jodie Shepard/Illustrated by Joe Mathieu, (Sept. 2017, Random House), $6.99, ISBN: 9781524720735

Ages 3-5

Hanukkah is coming to Sesame Street, and Grover is so excited! He and his Mommy decorate their home and open it up to their friends for the next eight days and nights. Grover’s Eight Nights of Light explains Hanukkah rituals to younger readers, from the shamash candle (the helper candle that lights the candles in the menorah) to the story of Judah Maccabee and the Hanukkah miracle. Some big Sesame Street names pop up here: Cookie Monster shows up and discovers that latkes are the same shape as cookies: what could be wrong with that?; Oscar the Grouch likes watching the dreidel fall over; Elmo and Abby arrive with gifts, the Bear family drops by to celebrate and trade gifts, Prairie Dawn sings a song with Grover, and Bert and Ernie accompany Grover and his mom to the food pantry on tzedakah night, when they perform an act of charity. Big Bird and Grover talk patterns of color candles in the menorah, and what would an 8-night holiday be without Count von Count? On the last night of Hanukkah, Grover and his Mommy have a party for everyone, and readers are invited to throw their own: the book includes stickers and a poster for a Pin the Candle on the Menorah game.

Sesame Street is synonymous with diversity and representation, and Grover’s Eight Nights of Light is a fun book that informs with love. The kids’ favorite characters are here, and present the history of Hanukkah in a child-friendly, accessible way. If you’ve got PBS/Sesame fans in your life, this is a great little gift to tuck into your gift bag for one of those eight nights. (Librarians, save the stickers and poster for programs; your book will last a little longer that way, too.)

From Joe Mathieu’s webpage

 

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, by Eric A. Kimmel/Illustrated by Matthew Trueman, (Sept. 2014, Disney/Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781423143550

Ages 4-8

A tale of miracles follows Simon, a Russian boy, who leaves home and heads to America in search of a better life. Once he secures a job, he’ll send for his mother, brothers, and sisters. But the ship hits and iceberg, and Simon saves a man’s life by switching places in a lifeboat with him. He’s marooned on an iceberg on the first night of Hanukkah, with only his menorah, candles, matches, and some food, which he shares with a polar bear who happens by. Over the next few days, Simon and the bear shares freshly caught fish with him and keeps him warm at night, while he lights Hanukkah candles and tells her stories. He reflects on the seven miracles he’s experienced so far, and prays for just one more: to be rescued and make it to America. Simon’s optimism pays off, and he’s rescued; reunited with the man whose life he saved, he discovers that there’s one extra Hanukkah miracle in store for him – just like the menorah has one extra candle.

Simon and the Bear pairs historical storytelling with a touch of holiday magic: and isn’t that the best kind? Matthew Trueman’s artwork, a combination of collage, crushed paper cutouts and acrylics, creates a textured story that comes to life as readers turn the pages. Icy blue shades add a little bit of chill to Simon’s marooning, but his ever-present knit red hat and the warm glow of the Hanukkah candles adds the optimism and warmth we all need. His family wears traditional Russian clothing for the time period, all in warm colors, really bringing the family together. Endpapers show a cold, clear, starry sky.

A cheerful story about optimism and the power of a good deed, and a nice addition to shelves and collections. An author’s note offers a brief explanation of the holiday. Simon and the Bear has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, (Sept. 2012, Alfred A. Knopf), $16.99, ISBN: 9780375860935

Ages 3-7

A little girl has the best of both worlds: she’s a “mix of two traditions. From Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama”, in this lovable story about blending holiday traditions. Little Sadie and her family decorate their home for the holidays, leaving latkes out for Santa and hanging candy canes on the menorah, and sing Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs as they go caroling. The last night of Hanukkah is a big night, as Daddy stuffs a turkey with cranberry kugle and Mama makes sweet jelly donuts and fruitcakes for dessert. The families celebrate together, retelling the stories of both the miracle of the oil and the birth in the manger: “Wide-eyed, we listen to these traditional tales, which link us together today”. When everyone’s gone home, the family relaxes together and shares final gifts, getting ready to do it all again next year.

Selina Alko evokes big holiday feelings and childhood excitement here. Her gouache, collage, and colored pencil on watercolor paper artwork is bold and colorful, contributing to the excitement and anticipation of the holidays, and she brings Judeo-Christian traditions together with fun and childlike joy. A timeline at the end of the story illustrates all the holidays Sadie and her family celebrate together, from Hanukkah/Christmas (Kwanzaa gets a mention, but the family here is white) through to Easter and Passover, and Thanksgiving. Endpapers are colorful portraits of Sadie and her parents, and include icons for each holiday: a dreidel and a menorah, a tree and an angel. Inspired by the author and her husband’s decision to integrate each of their religious backgrounds into their home for the holidays, Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama is a lovely addition to holiday collections and storytimes.How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Mark Teague, (Sept. 2012, Blue Sky Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0545416771

Ages 3-6

Those misbehaving dinosaurs are here to demonstrate what to do – and what NOT to do – during Chanukah! We see Rugops fuss through prayer and Nodosaurs blow out menorah lights while Ichtyostega writes his own name on everyone’s gift cards and Chirostenotes grabs all the gelt, all while horrified parents bear witness. But we know that’s not really what dinosaurs do when they celebrate Hanukkah. Camarasaurus shows readers that dinosaurs sing every prayer, and Chirostenotes is sharing the gelt and taking turns with the dreidel. Dinosaurs give Bubbie and Zaida holiday kisses, and then head off to bed.

I remember reading the first book in this series – How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight (2000) – when my eldest was barely a year old; these books have become a touchstone in kids’ lives, with books to celebrate everything from managing emotions to table manners. Having Dinosaurs celebrate the holidays is just a natural addition to this series. The rhyming pattern is soothing and consistent through each book, and the dinosaurs are always drawn as larger-than-life goofballs having larger-than-life emotions: which is kind of what it’s like, being a kid. Different facets of the holiday get the spotlight, including latkes, gifts, lighting menorahs, and prayers.

Plus, kids love dinosaurs. So, home run. This series does well wherever it lives, so why not add to it?

 

Happy Hanukkah, Curious George, by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, (Sept. 2012, HMH Books for Young Readers), $7.99, ISBN: 9780547757315

Ages 2-5

Six short rhyming stories show readers how Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat celebrate Hanukkah with friends. Each story, tabbed for little fingers to turn quickly to, looks at a different moment in the eighth night celebration: George and his friend wrap gifts and head out visiting; they arrive and the party begins; the Man in the Yellow Hat (with his hat respectfully off) lights the menorah, George and the children spin the dreidel, George tries to help makes latkes; George and the kids play; and finally, George does a mitzvah by cleaning up and packing up some latkes to take to a sick friend.

Illustrated in the classic Curious George style we all know and love, and with a shiny, silver foil cover, Happy Hanukkah, Curious George is a good add to toddler holiday collections. The book and tabs are in shades of blue and yellow, with colorful Hanukkah symbols on each tab, and Curious George is one of the most recognizable children’s icons in literature. His familiarity will draw in readers, and the rhyming cadence is perfect for storytime reading.

Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah, by Tilda Balsley/Illustrated by David Harrington, (Sept. 2010, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 9780761345077

Ages 3-7

Maccabee! is the historical Hanukkah story, made into a rhyming epic tale for younger readers. The polytheist Greeks and their leader, King Antiochus, weren’t happy that the Jews refused to bow to their gods, and decided to desecrate their holy ground, raise statues of their gods, and force the people into worship. Mattathias, an elder, turned to his sons, his son Judah, in particular, for support in raising a resistance. Judah led his army of Maccabees against Antiochus’ armies until they won, and then lead his people in rebuilding their civilization, devastated by war. An epilogue asks readers what Judah would do if he were alive today, and posits that he’d be pretty happy that his people are still thriving.

This is a very readable, child-friendly history of the struggle behind the celebration of Hanukkah. The rhyme scheme is simple and easily falls into pattern for a readaloud. A repeated phrase, “Sometimes it only takes a few, Who know what’s right, and do it, too”, brings home the message embodied by the Maccabees: see the need to do the right thing, and do it. It takes bravery, it takes strength, and it takes determination; here, the Maccabees model the behavior and inspire readers.

The artwork is bright, with a realistic cartoon feel: think of Judah Maccabee like a buff superhero. The spreads are full-bleed and colorful, with movement across the pages to keep little eyes engaged. Back matter includes a brief backgrounder on the festival of Hanukkah. This one’s a fun addition to holiday collections; it’s more history-based, yet still includes the focus on family that is central to the celebration.

 

My First Chanukah, by Tomie DePaola, (Sept. 2008, Grosset & Dunlap), $5.99, ISBN: 9780448448596

Ages 2-5

Tomie DePaola has a sweet board book that uses simple language and his immediately recognizable watercolor artwork to explain Chanukah to babies and toddlers. My First Chanukah simply and eloquently explains why families light candles (“to remember Judah Maccabee and his brothers”) and how the menorah is lit each night; he makes sure to cover latkes (“delicious potato pancakes”) and the dreidel, gelt, presents, and songs and prayers. He closes, reminding readers that they’ll celebrate again next year.

My First Chanukah covers the kid-friendly parts of Hanukkah: food, family, goodies, and together time. His illustrations are warm and intimate, with a welcoming glow from the menorahs and a smiley baby with its family. It’s a great pick to have in your board book collections, and a perfect storytime choice for the holiday.

 

That’s it for my first Hanukkah round-up! I’ve got a few more holds waiting to come in, so I hope to have at least one more post before the holiday is over. Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Posted in Preschool Reads

Oskar and the Eight Blessings: A Hanukkah tale

Oskar and the Eight Blessings, by Ricahrd Simon & Tanya Simon/Illustrated by Mark Siegel, (Sept. 2015, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439498

Recommended for readers 4-8

Oskar is a young, Jewish refugee arriving in New York to stay with his aunt after the horror of Kristallnacht. He arrives in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah in 1938, which also falls on Christmas Eve. He has no money, and faces a long walk from Battery Park to his Aunt Esther’s apartment on West 103rd Street. As he walks the length of Manhattan, he keeps his father’s words in mind: “…even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.” And sure enough, he encounters blessings, in the forms of people whose paths he crosses, that provide him with small moments of kindness, from a woman who gives him bread to newsstand man who gives him a copy of a Superman comic. Two legendary figures pop up to show kindness toward Oskar, whistling a tune with him and giving him a wink. Each act of kindness sustains Oskar on his journey, which ends in his aunt’s arms.

This is a gorgeous book. It’s about the power of empathy, and how the seemingly smallest kindnesses can make the greatest differences. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of children. The book begins with a gut punch, and ends with a crescendo; you can’t be unaffected by Oskar’s story. The artwork relies on close-ups of faces, particularly eyes, to convey emotion, and it’s through Oskar’s eyes that we see the fear of being in a strange, new place; wonder and joy at the connections he makes, and finally, the comfort of home. I need my own copy of this book.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings received the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature and was chosen for both the Booklist Editors’ Choice and Kansas State Reading Circle. The book received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Hanukkah picture books for holiday storytime!

I realized that my winter holiday reading has been somewhat narrow in scope, so I’m looking for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books to read deeper and stronger. Here are some adorable Hanukkah books I’ve just read; I hope you enjoy them, too!

Latke, the Lucky Dog, by Ellen Fischer/Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke,
(Aug. 2014, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 978-0761390398
Good for readers 4-8

Narrated by Latke, a shelter dog that’s rescued on the first night of Hanukkah, this is an adorable story about pet adoption and Hanukkah. As he gets used to his new home, Latke manages to get in trouble every single night of Hanukkah! He’s eating the sufganiyot, chewing up dreidels, and slobbering all over the gelt. Yikes! Luckily for Latke, his family is very forgiving, and gives him his very own present on the eighth night. As Latke repeats throughout the book, he is “one lucky dog”. Latke the Lucky Dog has soft illustrations and changes in font color to note when Latke is narrating (blue) versus when someone else speaks (black). Anyone who has lived with a puppy will recognize Latke doing what dogs do; the forgiving family makes this a story of compassion and empathy while also giving kids a look into what life with a pet can be like. The story touches on the foods and activities that are part of the Hanukkah celebration.

 

Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss/Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn,
(Oct. 1993, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 978-0929371467
Good for readers 4-7

Sammy Spider and his mom watch from their web as their family, the Shapiros, light their menorah on the first night of Hanukkah. Sammy is intrigued, and drops down a bit. He loves the way the menorah keeps his feet warm, and he enjoys hearing the story of Hanukkah, but what he really loves are the dreidels that Josh, the young boy, receives from his parents each night! He asks his mother if he can have a dreidel, but Mom tells him spiders spin webs, not dreidels… but on the last night of Hanukkah, Mom has a wonderful surprise for Sammy. I really enjoyed this book, because it provided a nice background on the holiday itself – the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil – and incorporated family traditions. It’s also a concept book, with illustrations reinforcing numbers and colors. The artwork is reminiscent of Eric Carle, with a collage feel. There is a whole library of Sammy the Spider books, where he learns about different aspects of Jewish life, from holidays, to traveling to Israel.

Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf, by Greg Wolfe/Illustrated by Howard McWilliam,
(Sept. 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619635210
Good for readers 4-8

This story is adorable, and handles that whole Elf on the Shelf business (Shmelf on the Shelf, maybe?) while we’re at it. Shmelf is a new elf, working on Santa’s List, checking it twice, when he notices something really distressing: there are a whole bunch of kids that aren’t on the naughty list, yet they’re not receiving presents! When he asks the head elf what the deal is, he finds out that the kids on the list are Jewish, and have their own holiday, where they receive gifts from their parents. This still doesn’t sit right with Shmelf, who goes investigating and sees a family celebrating Hanukkah: they’re spinning dreidels, they’re snacking on gelt, and yes, they’re getting presents! One for each night! He hears the story of Hanukkah and is so excited, he races back to the North Pole, where Santa gives him a special task: he’s going to travel the world, spreading Hanukkah magic! He gets a snazzy blue and white outfit, a sleigh and reindeer of his own, and heads out every year – sometimes November, sometimes December – to make sure your latkes are crispy and think, your menorahs burn bright, and your dreidels win. You want to thank Shmelf and his reindeer, Asher? No cookies – they like gelt and kosher dill! How can you not love this story? It’s a great way to explain Hanukkah – I love how Mom’s story takes shape in word bubbles  – and adds a fun spin to the holiday.

That was my first foray into Hanukkah reading, and now I plan to request more!