Light up the Darkness with Hanukkah Books

Light up the Darkness with Hanukkah Books

Like many Jewish kids, my daughter ends up getting read a lot of Chanukah books around this time of year. It’s one way for her to connect to her Jewish heritage and traditions at a time of year when sometimes it feels like the whole known world is one big Christmas celebration!


Over the years, we’ve progressed from the very simplest board books to some meatier titles. Here are some picks from our Chanukah bookshelf:

    This original tale has everything you need in a kid’s book, really: a wily trickster figure (Hershel of Ostropol, based on a famous character of Jewish folklore) a seemingly impossible task (to defeat the goblins and bring back Chanukah by lighting all eight nights of candles in the old, haunted synagogue) and, best of all, a cast of truly monsterish goblins, by turns dopey and irritating and purely, spookily wicked, depicted with all their glorious warts and teeth by the late, great, illustrator Trina Schart Hyman.

  • The Flying Latke, by Arthur Yorinks; illustrated by William Steig, with photo illustrations by Arthur Yorinks and Paul Colin

    Opinions vary on this farcical restaging of the Chanukah miracle, wherein one single latke feeds an entire extended family that’s holed up in their New Jersey home for eight days after a Hanukkah party gone wrong. Some people might find it too in-jokey, but my kid loves the Borscht-belt slapstick humor, and I get a big kick out of the illustrations: the author and illustrator rounded up a stellar cast of actors, authors, and children’s book luminaries and their kids (John Turturro and Maurice Sendak each make an appearance) to act out each scene, which were then photographed and superimposed on a painted background. The resulting tableaux emphasize the over-the-top schtick-y nature of the book, and make it a treat to pore over for details.

    Sara has a dilemma common to Jewish kids: Christmas envy. When the mysterious Tante Miriam shows up at the family Chanukah party and gives each kid a gift, Sara’s annoyance deepens; her present is a weird, huge, golden dreydl. Except, well, it actually sends her spinning into another reality, one that includes King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, a lost princess who needs rescuing, and the Demon King. Also, some highly satisfying riddles that my kid has been enjoying trying out on friends. 
    I can’t pretend to be unbiased about this new addition to the Chanukah canon: it’s by my cousin. But just as she’s more than accomplished enough not to need a plug from me, The Golden Dreydl had plenty going for it on its own to engage both reader and listener, even without the family connection, when I read it aloud to my daughter a few weeks ago. It was especially fun to find the “Nutcracker Suite” connections together (though I have to admit that the riddles were made even more enjoyable by my slowly dawning realization that most of them came from the stock of jokes my dad used to tell us).

These are just a few of my family’s favorite books about Chanukah (Or Hanukkah, or Hanukka…it’s always a challenge to figure out how it’s going to be spelled next). If you’re looking for more, there’s no shortage of resources: About.com, Kidsreads, Childrenslit.com, and the educational website Apples4theteacher.com all have extensive annotated lists of Chanukah titles for children. Scholastic’s own website has a nice list of Hanukkah picture books, as well as an article about December holidays which includes some excellent Hanukkah titles, as well as books about Christmas and Kwanzaa, and tips on discussing all three holidays with children.

November 26, 2007

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