2017-12-06 / Columns

A look at the Chanukah-themed books for children—and adults


Kindle the Chanukah lights, spin the dreidel, fry the latkes, and…share a Chanukah story with the children. Each year brings a new crop of books for the holiday, and our libraries have them.

AMY: “Little Red Ruthie, a Hanukkah Tale” is by Gloria Koster. Ruthie puts on her red puffy coat, getting ready to go to her grandmother, Bubbe Basha’s house, on the other side of the forest. As Ruthie skips along, a big, bad wolf jumps out and threatens to eat her up. Ruthie is determined to be as brave as a Maccabee, and she negotiates with the wolf, which runs off to Bubbe Basha’s. Ruthie arrives and holds the wolf at bay, telling him a very abbreviated version of the Chanukah story, and then stuffing him with latkes until Bubbe returns home. As the now-groggy wolf heads outside, Ruthie and Grandma light the first candle and enjoy their dinner.

MINNA: In “Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas” by Pamela Ehrenberg, a family with an Indian mom and a Jewish dad celebrate Chanukah with dosas, a fried pancake made with rice and lentils, instead of latkes. Getting locked out of the house complicates the festivities, but all ends well and recipes are included.

AMY: “Hanukkah Bear” by Eric A. Kimmel is a revision of the author’s 1990 “The Chanukah Guest.” A bear awakens from his winter slumber and follows his nose to 97-year-old Bubba Brayna’s house, where latkes are cooking. She is expecting the rabbi to join her for dinner, but the bear arrives and Bubba mistakes him for the rabbi. The bear eats so many latkes he can barely shuffle out the door. When the rabbi arrives, Bubba Brayna is puzzled, but soon realizes her mistake.

MINNA: “Happy Hanukkah, Dear Dragon” by Margaret Hillert features an even more implausible Chanukah visitor. A boy and his pet dragon visit Jewish neighbors and learn about Chanukah while sharing latkes, chocolate gelt, and lighting the menorah. This book is part of the Beginning-to-Read: Dear Dragon Series, so the words for the Chanukah objects are not part of the easy-to-read narrative. The book includes a word list and other resource material.

AMY: “Way Too Many Latkes, A Hanukkah in Chelm” is by Linda Glaser. Faigel forgets her famous latke recipe, and sends husband Shmuel to ask the rabbi what to do. Silliness ensues until an exhausted Faigel has made so many latkes, the couple doesn’t know what to do with them.

MINNA: “Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles” is by David A. Adler, the award-winning author of the Cam Jansen series. The Chanukah season is the setting for young Sara to learn about the meaning of tzedakah when she sees a hungry stranger, shares food and gifts with him, and ultimately invites him to share a Shabbat and Chanukah meal with her family after the rabbi introduces them.

AMY: “Sammy Spider’s Hanukkah Colors” by Sylvia A. Rouss is a new board book that brings picture-book favorite Sammy back to his web in the Shapiro family’s living room. He sees a dreidel he would like to play with, but his mother reminds him that spiders don’t spin dreidels, “spiders spin webs,” a refrain familiar to children who have followed Sammy through his adventures in the Sammy Spider series of holiday books. Share this book with toddlers.

MINNA: “The Missing Letters: A Dreidel Story” by Renee Londner brings the Hebrew letters on the sides of the dreidel to life in a tale of jealousy over Gimel’s popularity. At the dreidel maker’s shop, Shin, Hey, and Nun decide to hide all the Gimels until they learn of the important story behind the game. Lessons on playing dreidel are part of the story.

AMY: “Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor” by Ann D. Koffsky has young Judah receiving a shield as a Chanukah gift. When Father takes Judah and baby sister Hannah to the doctor for check-ups, Judah does not want to get a shot, but dad explains that a vaccine is like a shield; it will protect Judah and keep him from getting an illness that could be spread to little Hannah. Cheerful illustrations and the unusual double message (Chanukah/vaccination) make this unique title a winner.

MINNA: Finally, we have a Chanukah-themed book for adults. “The Menorah” by Steven Fine is a detailed history of the oldest religious symbol in the Western world. Although no images remain of the menorahs of Moses or the Temple, the Arch of Titus contains a depiction of the menorah from Rome’s conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Fine covers 3,000 years and multiple cultures in this comprehensive examination that goes right up to the present day.

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

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