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 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!