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:, Kidsreads,, and the educational website 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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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:



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



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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

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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

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