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

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Yo, what's up, bloggees?

Yo, what's up, bloggees?

It takes some courage (or maybe just foolhardiness) to broach what I am about to ask. Certain questions probably shouldn’t be asked unless the inquirer is prepared for an unpleasant answer. But I am really curious. Can anyone tell me why my blogs don’t elicit ANY comments? Scholastic parenting blogs are not inundated with replies, but most do elicit a few favorable comments, and occasional critical ones too. Mine evoke only stony silence. Have you ever tried to argue with someone who doesn’t answer back? These silent treatments are sometimes more distressing than even unreasonable criticism. You know, the old show biz motto: "Call me anything, but call me."

If I think back to unpleasant memories of adolescence, high on the list was waiting for a phone call for a second date from a guy who was fun on the first. It seemed as if those I hoped would never waste another evening of mine, did call, and too soon. Anyone of interest took forever, or so it seemed. I have to say I think that compared to then, I am pretty patient now. I have been writing these blogs for a few years and the only response ever elicited by any of them was a critique of my grammar. (Incidentally, that was pretty embarrassing for a grammar nut; but it was something. It told me there is somebody out there willing to go beyond the opening phrase. She hung in for the whole thing, as a matter of fact, a not insignificant achievement on her part and I guess mine.)

So what’s up? It can’t be the Grandmom thing (you know, “oh bad enough I have to listen to my mother and mother-in-law, I need another grandma with unsolicited advice?”) because even before this new handle, silence reigned in response to my blogs. Off the record, my daughter-in-law told me that a friend of hers finds them amusing; or maybe she actually used the word "witty." I’m still not sure if my daughter-in-law was just trying to cheer me up after seeing all those zeros after the word "responses." She would do that; she’s that thoughtful. But I am "from Missouri" -- metaphorically. I need to be shown that these one-way chats about some things I really care about are not just the old proverbial "noise in the forest." If there is no one there to hear it, did it happen, remember?

So arise, my audience, and give it to me straight! Are there issues you would rather be reading about? Am I missing out on what really matters in your family’s life? Let me have it -- the unexpurgated truth. I am steeled to take it — for the sake of being helpful, reassuring, or at least relevant to you.

November 27, 2007

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Heralding Robert’s Snow with Giles Laroche

Heralding Robert’s Snow with Giles Laroche

[cross-posted in slightly different form at book, book, book]

Robertssnowlogo2007 A few weeks ago I wrote about the amazing Blogging for a Cure effort, in which bloggers are highlighting different snowflakes in support of the Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure online auction. It’s a treat to have the chance to not only feature a snowflake illustrator today but to do so on the very first day of the first snowflake auction.

Giles Laroche has been drawing, according to this site,“as long as he can remember.” He illustrates using a technique he calls “paper relief,” a combination of drawing, painting, and paper cut that produces a three-dimensional effect.

I knew of Laroche through his illustrations for Sacred Places, by Philemon Sturges, but discovered through research for this post that his illustration credits include an impressive variety of other titles. On my desk right now are What Do Wheels Do All Day? written by April Jones Princes, and Bridges are to Cross and Down to the Sea in Ships, both written by Laroche’s frequent collaborator Philemon Sturges.

In each of these books Laroche takes on a specific and visually striking topic—respectively, wheels, bridges, and boats—and brings it alive in a way that’s meticulously detailed enough to satisfy the most mechanically-minded kid (I’m especially fond of the gears and pulleys in “What Do Wheels Do All Day?” and the individually cut and placed pieces spanning the Apurimac River Bridge in “Bridges Are To Cross”) and bright and accessible enough for even easily-distracted toddlers. Each page is a world in itself, and rewards multiple viewings.

Like his book illustration, Laroche’s snowflake, entitled “Compass and Cormorant,” is both stunning and simple. I love the juxtaposition of the medieval-esque angelic herald with that alert seabird on the other side, ready to take flight. Here; it's worth a closer look:

 

093_snowflakes_2007_3

The Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure auction is ready to take flight too, as of this very day! Please take a look at all the snowflakes, and consider bidding on one (or more!). It’s a rare chance to support a truly worthy cause and to own an affordable piece of art by a children’s illustrator.

November 19, 2007

 


 

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Seven: The Age of (Not) Supposed To

Seven: The Age of (Not) Supposed To

Many years ago, I coveted my school psychology professor’s commercially available diagnostic play kit; but it was far too expensive for me, then a poor graduate student, to afford. Solution: I assigned my woodworking hobbyist husband to build a simple box. For a few dollars, I bought plastic dollhouse furniture and little figures of family members, remembering to include both genders of children and adults and at least one baby. The furniture would have to include a bedroom set, living room, kitchen table, appliances, and bathroom items, notably a bathtub and toilet. Voila: the cross-section of a doll house, modest version.

It was reassuring to see that the kids I worked with didn’t care about its lack of polish. Most of them young children who are naturals at play and pretend, they went right to it, like the proverbial ducks to water. Without any coaxing, they dramatized the issues that had brought them to our university clinic. No big deal. They were “just playing.” Conflicts, joys, jealousies, even abuse were innocently enacted. It was flimsy evidence, no DNA, but in many cases the ersatz diagnostic tool opened the door for further inquiry and eventual help for troubled kids and families.

The “doll-house box” is still in my home playroom today. (Doesn’t every Grandma have a room full of toys and games that make for interesting visits?) Our 7 year old granddaughter recently discovered the box while sampling the room’s offerings. In a flash, it was a dollhouse, everything in its place; the older brother sitting at the kitchen table — and the following dialogue with his mother loud and clear. “Write your essay. It’s due Monday.” “No, it’s not due till Friday.” “Start it now so you can polish it before handing it in.” “No, it’s not due till Friday.” Despite the old-fashioned figures and furnishings, a very 21st century American family drama was being enacted.

But my focus this time is not on the current “do your homework and do it well” theme lived out in homes throughout the country. Instead, listen to what came next, over a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and sliced apples, in my real and today kitchen. “I’m not s’pposed to play with dolls like that, Grandma.” “Why not?” “ Because I am seven. Girls my age don’t play with dolls any more.” “Really, I thought most of them do.” “No, the girls in my class say they never play with dolls anymore.” “Yeah, that’s what they tell YOU. I guess they want to feel big and grown-up. I’m glad that playing and pretending never gets old and you and I never get too old to have fun doing it!”

November 19, 2007

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

National American Indian Month, Thanksgiving, and Jingle Dancer

National American Indian Month, Thanksgiving, and Jingle Dancer

In the United States, November is National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. November is also the month when American Thanksgiving—a holiday that’s, to say the least, pretty problematic from a Native American standpoint—is celebrated. All over the country, parents and teachers look for books on Thanksgiving that will be interesting and fun for kids to read without portraying Native Americans—past or present—in an inaccurate or biased way.

One resource that can be helpful when choosing books about Thanksgiving or Native American topics is the website American Indians in Children’s Literature, a blog maintained by Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman who is a former elementary school teacher and currently a professor at UIUC's American Indian Studies Program . In a recent post, Reese discusses her own take on the holiday and recommends some books on Thanksgiving.

 It’s easy to find books that tell the story of the first Thanksgiving (with more or less accuracy), and there are many illustrated retellings of Native American folk tales—again, with varying degrees of authenticity and respect for their original sources. What’s harder to find are engaging children’s books that depict the lives of modern-day Native Americans. (I have met many children who don’t even realize that Indians still exist!)

One such book that I like a lot is Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Jingle Dancer, in which Jenna wants to dance in at the powwow, but doesn’t have enough jingles for her dress. From the opening pages, which show Jenna watching a recording of her grandma’s jingle dance on a VCR, the book juxtaposes elements of traditional Ojibway culture with Jenna’s recognizably contemporary life. And Jenna solves her problem in a way that combines personal resourcefulness and support from her community.

 

September 15, 2007

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Crispy Encounters Toddlers

Crispy Encounters Toddlers

Since we are going to be getting together here fairly often, I think I ought to tell you about a very central character in my life. He is a 2 year old Norwich Terrier named Crispy. “That’s such a cute name,” people say, apparently reminded of tasty snacks. But the name “Crispy” has nothing to do with food. I crowned him “Crispy” after the lead character in one of Margaret Wise Brown’s (author of Goodnight Moon) little known picture books, Mr. Dog. Her fictional dog’s formal name is “Crispian,” inspired by Brown's own badly behaved pet. As most of Brown’s stories do, this book has a universal theme — it’s all about autonomy, the desire of every young child who feels constrained by adults’ “no-no’s.”

The author describes her fictional character as “his own dog”. He and he alone decides what he does and when he does it and he does just fine, thank you very much. I didn’t know what my puppy would turn out to be like, so I took a chance in naming him after such an independent character. But it was prophetic.

Crispy is the most individualistic dog I’ve ever known. Training rules don’t apply to him. He is clearly convinced that what happens next in our family is in his paws alone. He barks indignantly when he senses that I am going somewhere without him, yet barely lifts his head when I call him to come. There is an expression of “what’s in it for me?” Yet, at the same time, Crispy is the most emotionally attached dog I’ve ever known. He follows wherever I go, unless I ask him to, of course. And speaking of barking, he doesn’t let up when he hears a doorbell ring, even if it’s on TV. You can imagine the noise in our house during the “Trick or Treat” hours of Halloween.

Coincidentally, it was that night that I had the epiphany — a wave of sudden insight — that Crispy is not only two in years; he is a caricature of “the human toddler”: a naysayer who clings. Whatever you ask him to do, he says “No,” in his own language. But if you walk away from him, he comes running to reunite and is like glue until you ask him to do something totally reasonable, like “SIT.”

Crispy is behaviorally identical to a human toddler. He wants to be free, but won’t extend the same privilege to me. Interestingly too, this dog is remarkably simpatico with human toddlers, including those whose parents insist they are “afraid of dogs.” As I said, it all became clear to me on Halloween. A first time visiting 2 year old tried to break free from her mother’s arms as the mother insisted, “She’s afraid of dogs.” So afraid, I silently observed, that the toddler was taunting Crispy by doing a perfect imitation of his bark, almost nose to snout. There was not even a suggestion of fear on the child’s face as the two did a barking duet.

Just a week before, we had been visited by a 2 year old relative and his family. That toddler’s mission was the same — "Get Crispy.” The child kept saying, “Mommy, doggie go woof!” He reported the dog’s bad behavior, then imitated it, down on all fours to challenge the 12-pound beast. It was a stand-off, as it always is with Terriers and Toddlers, partly because neither can decide the first priority — to be free or indivisibly attached.

November 8, 2007

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

The Kidlitosphere, Part 2: Blogging for a Cure

The Kidlitosphere, Part 2: Blogging for a Cure

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the kidlitosphere has come together to create a new book award. These indefatigable bloggers have taken on another huge project this season, as well: the kidlitosphere is out to cure cancer with snowflakes and children’s book illustration. Or at least, to help raise the funds to do so.

It all started with children’s author and illustrator Grace Lin, and her husband, Robert Mercer, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma shortly after their wedding, and with a story about a mouse that Grace made up to entertain Robert as he recovered from treatments that left him enervated. As Grace recounts here, that story became the book Robert’s Snow, and the real Robert’s cancer went into remission soon afterwards.

When the cancer returned, in 2004, Grace and Robert were told that his best chance for survival lay with a cancer research breakthrough. So, using “Robert’s Snow” as an inspiration, they designed a fundraiser: they asked children’s illustrators to paint wooden snowflakes, and held an auction of the resulting works of art, raising more than $100,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and another book, Robert’s Snowflakes, was created out of the snowflake works of art. The event was repeated the following year, with more beautiful wooden snowflakes raising more money for cancer research.

This August, Robert Mercer passed away, at the age of 35. And this month, starting on November 19, the Robert’s Snow for Cancer’s Cure snowflake auction will be held online for a third time, with over 200 illustrators contributing snowflakes.

In memory of Robert, and in honor of Grace Lin, her friends and fans and fellow bloggers are going all out to promote this year’s auction. Every day, starting on October 15 and running all the way to the eve of the auction, on November 18, blogs all over the kilitosphere have been featuring a different individual artist and the snowflake that he or she has created. Over half of the artists will be featured as part of this "Blogging for a Cure" effort by the time the auction opens. Many bloggers have also been posting each week’s snowflake feature schedule in advance. The resulting posts have been, in their own way, as stunning as the works of art they are promoting: a blizzard of eloquence and energy pouring out into the online world.

This post at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, whose authors, Jules and Eisha, took on the daunting task of organizing the blogging effort, gives a list of all the featured artists, and a schedule of the first three weeks of snowflake posts. Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader, a fellow instigator, has also written many posts about the snowflakes and the auction. To view all the snowflakes in their variegated loveliness, take a look at the auction site and browse through the individual items to be had.

And for one last snowflake illustrator post at the very, very last minute, check out Librarian Mom on November 18.

November 7, 2007

AddThis Social Bookmark Button