Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
Come light the menorah
A holiday with lots of books,
The kids keep screaming more-a
Gather in a circle, I’ll read you a book
Make-believe and magic, come on take a look…
Okay, so the song is cheesy, but Hanukkah is one of the few Jewish holidays that really has a ton of books. The other two are Purim and Passover, so we have a lot of fun with those as well. With Hanukkah, a number of the books are in the spirit of the holiday rather than specifically about the holiday. These are a few of our favorites. I will note that 5 out of the 12 are written by Eric Kimmel, but after you’ve read one of two of his books, you will understand why.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins – J brought this book home from the school library at some point last year after the Hanukkah holiday. The story is a parable about standing up for yourself and taking pride in your religion, important themes for Hanukkah. Hershel is passing through a Jewish village on the first night of Hanukkah and notices that none of the homes have menorahs in them – tradition dictates that we leave menorahs to glow in the windows for all to see and remember the miracle. The villagers explain that goblins have taken over the synagogue and that they hate Hanukkah and won’t permit people to light the candles. The only way to defeat the goblins is to have the biggest, scariest goblin light all eight of the candles. Hershel is up for the challenge and finds ways to out-wit a different goblin each night. On the eighth night, the biggest, scariest goblin appears, and of course little Hershel tricks him into lighting the candles thus bringing Hanukkah back to the village. Not only did J love this book, but she convinced a non-Jewish friend to check it out of the library as well. A great read for 5-10 year olds.
When Mindy Saved Hanukkah – This is J’s favorite book at the moment. When asked why, she just told me that she really loves this story. It reminds me of “The Little” which I never read, but I did watch as a child. In this book, the Klein family is a little family that lives behind the walls of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. On the day before Hanukkah, the father has gone to fetch a candle so they can make their Hanukkah candles, but the new synagogue cat, “a fierce Antiochus of a cat,” nearly had him for dinner. Mindy decides to save the day and we watch her find ways to get onto the bimah and into the ark where an extra candle was just waiting for her. When the cat comes out of no where, her grandfather, armed with a piece of herring and a bottle-cap shield comes to divert the cat’s attention. Together, Zayde and Mindy save the day. “As the Maccabees of old proved to King Antiochus, you don’t have to be big to be mighty.” A great read for kids 4-10.
The Chanukkah Guest – This is a wonderfully silly book about a 97 year old woman who mistakes a bear for a visiting rabbi. The bear wakes from his winter slumber only to smell Bubba Brayna’s latkes. She is nearly blind and deaf and doesn’t realize that a bear has come to her door. She offers him the latkes she has made for him and the other villagers and they share a lovely meal together. After eating all of the latkes, the bear is ready to go back to sleep, and she sends him back to hibernation with a hand-made scarf only to be surprised when the real rabbi and villagers appear for Hanukkah dinner. When the children realize that it was a bear that had been in her house, she giggles at her foolishness. But never-mind, if everyone helps, more latkes can be made and they can continue to celebrate. The themes behind this book are welcoming people and working together to enjoy what you have. The original version of this book that we own was published in 1990 and a revised edition actually came out this year with the name, Hanukkah Bear. It is made for slightly younger children, but the premise is the same. Children 4-8 will enjoy the Hanukkah Bear while The Chanukkah Guest is more appropriate for 6-10.
The Magic Dreidels – In this tale by Kimmel, Hanukkah is coming and everyone in Jacob’s family is getting the house ready, except for Jacob who is playing with his new dreidel. His mother sends him to the well for water and he accidentally drops his dreidel in. Thinking he can splash it out, he starts dropping rocks in the well. The nice goblin who lives there isn’t thrilled by this and gives J a magical dreidel that spins out latkes. Before he can bring it home and show his family, he is stopped by Fruma Sarah who tricks him by giving him an ordinary dreidel. He also forgot the bucket of water, so his mother sends him back to the well. He calls to the goblin, who gives him another dreidel, this one spins out gelt. Fruma Sarah tricks him again but this time he is sent to his room for not helping out like the rest of the family. He sneaks out and goes back to the well where the goblin tells him that Fruma Sarah stole his dreidels. The goblin gives him one more that should make Fruma Sarah give Jacob back his magical dreidels. This is a fun story with the symbols of Hanukkah for kids 4-8.
The Chanukkah Tree – A Chanukkah Tree? in Chelm? A Christmas tree peddler tricks the Jewish village of Chelm into buying a tree. The peddler tells them that in America they have Chanukkah trees that they wind with strings of popcorn and berries, decorate with ornaments and colored lights and top it with a star. When they don’t have those items, they decorate the tree their own way – with latkes, dreidels candles and the door from the synagogue with a Jewish star. They love their tree and are very sad when someone tells them they have been tricked. When a heavy snow falls and blankets the town, the tree becomes a gift for birds with food, warmth and shelter. They felt bamboozled for buying a Chanukkah tree, but in the end, they are proud to have the only Chanukkah Tree. Good for kids 4-8.
The Miracle of the Potato Latkes – Tante Golda makes the most delicious potato latkes in all of Russia. She loves to share them with friends and neighbors and through her motto “God will provide,” she always has enough potatoes to last the entire winter. When a severe drought hits, she doesn’t have enough potatoes to throw her normal party for the first night of Hanukkah. She goes to friends and family to ask for a potato, but everyone is suffering the same problems that she is. She uses her one lone potato to make latkes for herself when a beggar knocks at her door. They share a meal and the beggar thanks her for the latkes “nourish body and soul. They are a miracle, and one miracle leads to another. You’ll see.” Just as the oil miraculously lasted for 8 days, Tante Golda miraculously receives additional potatoes. It is a wonderful tale about miracles, sharing and caring for others. We were pleasantly surprised when we found this little gem. Great for kids 6-10.
Latkes and Applesauce – This is a charming story about Hanukkah miracles. When a family is surprised by an early snow, they find themselves without potatoes or apples to make their Hanukkah feast. Regardless, they still enjoyed each other’s company and celebrated the holiday. On the first night, little Rebecca hears a noise from outside and opens the door to find a kitten who is hungry and cold. Being one of God’s creatures, they take her in. The next night, Ezra opens the door to a starving puppy. Even though the family barely has food to feed themselves, they take him in as well. As the nights of Hanukkah continue, they start running out of food. Finally, on the 8th night the storm finally clears and they go outside. The dog starts digging in the snow, as dogs are natural diggers, and miraculously finds potatoes! The cat climbs the tree and finds the last few apples. That night, the family shares in the Hanukkah miracle by making a feast of latkes and applesauce. Good for kids 4-8.
Hanukkah Moon – This is not only a wonderful Hanukkah tale, but it shines the light on the Latin Jewish community that is often not represented. Isobel and her family go to Aunt Luisa’s house to celebrate Hanukkah and a very special Hanukkah party – the celebration of the Hanukkah Moon. “I’ve heard of the blue moon and even a man in the moon – but never a Hanukkah Moon.” As she learns Latin American ways of celebrating the holiday, she also learns that the Hanukkah Moon is the new moon of Hanukkah ushering in the month of Tevet. Rosh Chodesh is a special time for Jewish women. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai getting the Ten Commandments, many Israelites were worshiping a golden calf. The women refused to give their gold to build an idol and their reward was a special holiday once a month on the new moon. Rosh Chodesh was also one of the three commandments the Syrians prohibited before the Maccabees defeated them. On a deeper level, Rosh Chodesh symbolizes renewal, the ability of the Jewish People to rise up from oblivion and restore itself to its past greatness. “Just as the moon disappears at the end of each month, but returns and grows to fullness, so Israel may suffer exile and decline, but it always renews itself.” A very different type of Hanukkah story for 6-10 year olds.
Lest we forget the little ones, here are 3 great books for the younger crowd:
Chanukkah Bugs – My 3 year old loves this book. She loved it last year as a 2 year old as well. It is a fanciful celebration of the eight nights of Chanukah pop-up bugs in keeping with the holiday – the Shammash Bug, the Dizzy Dreidel Bug, the Bubby bug and many others. Great for kids once they stop trying to rip pop-up books.
Where is Baby’s Dreidel – Similarly, this book is a lift-the-flap book that shows various symbols of Hanukkah as baby looks for his dreidel. A great introduction for little children about latkes, gelt, and other symbols of the holiday. The only downside is that we have ripped off the flaps more than once, especially the curtains in the front of the book.
Light the Candles – Another lift-the-flap book that is great for kids is Light the Candles. This has a page for each day of Hanukkah and each flap shows something special about the holiday from giving presents, eating gelt, playing dreidels, saying blessings, and just singing and having fun with your family. Another good introduction about the holiday.
Happy Hanukkah, Curious George – for the slightly older set, this is a marvelous book about the games and symbols of Hanukkah. What is especially nice about this is that the final page adds in the part about Hanukkah being a time for mitzvot, or good deeds. The final poem has George doing various favors for friends and neighbors like cleaning the kitchen and bringing latkes to a sick friend, and then knowing that he will carry the joy of Hanukkah with him throughout the year by doing mitzvahs all year long.
Hanukkah is a joyous time to celebrate those around us and to feel proud about being Jewish. I hope you will enjoy sharing some of these great books with your family.