2016-12-07 / Columns

These fine books should be on your Chanukah gift-giving list


We think books make the best Chanukah gifts. They’re easy to wrap, require no batteries, and one size fits all. We gathered recently to talk about books for Chanukah gift-giving.

AMY: Every year there are several new Chanukah books for children. This year is no exception. Leslea Newman’s “Hanukkah Delight” is one choice. Whimsical bunnies celebrate Chanukah in this charming rhyming board book describing all the Chanukah rituals beloved by Jewish kids. “A Hanukkah with Mazel” by Joel Edward Stein is another new one. In this story for ages 4-8, Misha, a poor artist, has no one to celebrate Chanukah with until he discovers a hungry cat in his barn. The lucky little cat, whom Misha names Mazel, inspires Misha to turn each night of Chanukah into something special. He doesn’t have money for Chanukah candles, but he can use his artistic skills to bring light to his home—as Mazel brings good luck to his life. “Potatoes at Turtle Rock” by Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman offers a unique treatment of the holiday, also for ages 4-8. On the first night of Chanukah, Annie leads her family on a walk around their farm. At each stop along the way, Annie uses potatoes in clever ways that help the family reconnect to old traditions and begin new ones. Ultimately making a Chanukiah out of potatoes and enjoying a baked potato treat in the snow, Annie’s family expresses gratitude for the blessings in their lives. “Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Hanukkah: With Lights, Latkes, and Dreidels” by Deborah Heiligman is an offering From the National Geographic Society, geared toward ages 6-9. This introduction to the holiday uses vivid images as well as text to explain the history and meaning of Chanukah. Readers join Samson Wamani as he celebrates Chanukah in Uganda, as well as other Jews celebrating in India, Ghana, Italy, Poland and elsewhere. Special foods and traditions are described and the focus is on Jewish identity and freedom. With dazzling images and engaging text, readers learn about the historical and cultural significance of Chanukah. Finally, “Light the Menorah,” illustrated by Jannie Ho will amuse very young children. This board book features pull-tabs that enable little ones to “light” the candles for each successive night of Chanukah. The story follows a family as they prepare latkes and sufganiyot, say the prayer over the candles, sing songs, and play dreidel. Giftgiving is depicted but not emphasized.

MINNA: Aside from books specifically for the Chanukah season, there are some new children’s books worth considering as gifts. For younger children, “A Hat for Mrs. Goldman” by Michelle Edwards gently explains the meaning of doing a mitzvah in the context of the tale of a little girl whose elderly neighbor teaches her to knit. “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog,” by Adam Gidwitz, is a juvenile historical fiction set in 13th C. France. Jeanne, a peasant girl; William, a young monk; and Jacob, a Jewish boy; all with special powers, become unlikely allies as they embark on an adventure combining real historical figures with fictional characters. Instead of typical illustrations, the story is illuminated in medieval fashion by illustrator Hatem Aly.

DEBBIE: I find cookbooks make the perfect Chanukah gift for friends and family. “The Gefilte Manifesto” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern, Brooklyn chefs and owners of the Gefilteria, is a beautiful update to old-world Ashkenazi traditional foods. Named after the penultimate food that symbolized European peasantry, the authors believe we have come too far from Old World flavors and foods that connect us to our roots. The recipes provide background on their origin and give simple instructions with a twist. Standouts include spiced blueberry soup, bialys, and root vegetable latkes. Another cookbook that celebrates Jewish culture is “Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen: A Kosher Cookbook of Beloved Recipes and Modern Twists” by Niri Rotkovitz. From her grandmother, Ruth Simon, she learned to cook and shares her stories and recipes. The recipes have various adaptations, including vegan, gluten-free and dairyfree suggestions. There are also contributions from Ronnie Fein, Paula Shoyer, and Kim Kushner. Now for my favorite part of any meal—let’s talk dessert! “Sweet Noshings: New Twists on Traditional Desserts” by Amy Kritzer is a mouth-watering cookbook for bakers and wannabes. There are over 30 recipes, including apricot-fig stuffed challah, peanut butter and chocolate babka, and pistachio chocolate krembo. Kritzer has been featured on “Rachael Ray,” “The Today Show,” and in “Bon Appetit” magazine. If you’re intrigued, look up her blog at WhatJewWannaEat.com. This is a perfect Chanukah gift book.

Happy Chanukah!

For more information, contact us: Debbie Drachman at the JCC (ddrachman@jfedsnj.org); Minna Siegel at Temple Beth Sholom (msiegel@tbsonline.org); and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). s

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