2015-11-11 / Columns

Great books make great Chanukah presents for children


Chanukah presents!

Somewhere among the electronic games and other gifts, we hope you will purchase books to give to the children on your list. We gathered recently to discuss some new Chanukah-themed books, as well as other terrific children’s books, available this year.

AMY: A new publisher, Apple and Honey Press, has been issuing some great new titles. One is “Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match” by Rabbi Ron Isaacs. This is a perfect choice for young children, as it features farm animals. Farmer Kobi invites Polly to be his Chanukah guest, and the farmer’s goats, donkey and sheep enjoy playing host. While Farmer Kobi prepares a typical Israeli-style Chanukah dinner, the animals keep Polly company in the living room. But Polly doesn’t like having animals in the house, so she is clearly not Kobi’s “perfect match.” Then another woman arrives, seeking help with a flat tire. Her truck is filled with her own farm animals. Will she be Kobi’s “perfect match”? The story highlights Jewish values of compassion for animals and welcoming guests, and children will love imitating the animal sounds.

DEBBIE: “Hanukkah is Coming” by Tracy Newman is a new, sweet story about a family and their dog during Chanukah. The family lights the menorah, eats latkes, and unwraps gifts every night of the holiday. This 12-page board book for toddlers relates all the wonderful ways in which we can celebrate this joyous holiday!

JUDY: “Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish” by Barry Deutsch, the third book about Mirka, the world’s first time-traveling, monster-fighting, Orthodox Jewish girl, has just arrived! This graphic novel takes place where fantastic creatures live in the same world with a religious community. The series has won the Sydney Taylor Award for Best Children’s Book from the Association of Jewish Libraries and each new addition to the series is better than the last. For kids ages 8-12.

DEBBIE: “Bagels the Brave” by Joan Betty Stuchner is part of a series based on the Bernstein family and their dog, Bagels. This book is the sequel to “Bagels Come Home.” It is a chapter book appropriate for elementary school readers. The style of this book is a cross between “The Magic Tree House” and the “Henry and Mudge” series. In “Bagels the Brave,” the Bernstein family goes on a camping trip. Strange things occur as they live as pioneers in the forest for a week. Bagels helps follow the lead in this adventure, saving the day— and the family vacation ends well.

AMY: Beautifully illustrated, “One Good Deed” by Terri Fields is the tale of young Jake, who picks mulberries for a neighbor. This simple act leads to a chain of good deeds, as neighbors help each other in various ways. “One Good Deed” is a lovely story, perfect for the pre-school set.

JUDY: Before he wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” Brian Selznik wrote “The Houdini Box.” This is the compelling story of Victor, a 10- year-old, who tries to copy Houdini’s amazing escapes, and fails. A gift of a locked box from Houdini’s widow, with the initials “EW” on it, becomes the key to Victor’s success after he realizes that Houdini’s real name was Erich Weiss. An exciting read for ages 6-11. The illustrations in this book began a trend that led to Selznik’s winning the Caldecott Medal for “Hugo Cabret.”

DEBBIE: A preschool story in the likes of “Madeline,” is “Avigail” by Chana Zauderer. This is the story of four little girls, the youngest one being Avigail. Avigail always comes in last in everything she does with her three sisters. Avigail is even the last one to grow. This makes her sad. However, when her aunt pays a visit to her mother to borrow the mother’s wedding dress, this awakens Avigail to learning the value of what she has. This story has a wonderful moral to tell, and the illustrations are engaging.

AMY: Helping young children understand the challenges faced by aging relatives can be a difficult task. In “Sadie and Ori and the Blue Blanket” by Jamie Korngold, young Sadie and Ori enjoy spending time with their grandmother, snuggling in a soft, blue blanket. As the children grow up, Grandma grows older. Grandma can no longer participate in many of the activities she and the children once enjoyed, and the blanket serves new purposes, while continuing to bring the family together.

DEBBIE: A very special story by the adult author Ruchama King Feuerman is “The Mountain Jews and the Mirror.” This is a folk-like story with incredibly vivid illustrations. It is an appropriate read for children in kindergarten through grade two. In this Moroccan tale, Estrella and Yosef marry in their small village in the Atlas Mountains. They soon discover that they have a hard time making a living, and they move to the big, bright city of Casablanca. In the city, a new, complicated world awaits them. Never having seen a mirror before, their own reflections trick them into thinking other people are present in their home.

Happy Chanukah!

For more information, contact us: Debbie Drachman at the JCC(ddrachman@jfedsnj.org); Judy Brookover at Temple Beth Sholom (judy.brookover@gmail.com); and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). .

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