By Penny Schwartz
(JTA) — If you’re looking to enliven and enlighten the holiday for a loved little one, look no further than these six new books.
Toddlers and preschoolers will have fun celebrating the holiday with a family of bunnies, an owl, a kitty and even a friendly alligator in this delightful rhyming board book that’s perfect for introducing young ones to the rituals and traditions of the holiday. Award-winning writer and poet Leslea Newman (Heather Has Two Mommies) and artist Amy Husband capture the warmth of Chanukah’s glow with gleaming candles, crispy latkes and “Dreidels spinning through the night, chocolate gelt — come take a bite.”
A global tour of the Festival of Lights, with stunning photographs from India, Israel, Uganda, Poland and more. The straightforward text traces the ancient roots of the holiday, as well as explains the rituals and blessings said while lighting the menorah. Part of National Geographic’s “Holidays Around the World” series, Celebrate Hanukkah allows readers to discover the meaning behind holiday traditions, as well as the ways different families celebrate around the world. In this updated version of the 2008 edition, Heiligman explores the themes of religious freedom and the power of light in dark times.
In this enchanting fictional tale, Annie leads her family – along with their goat and chicken — on a Chanukah adventure. It’s a snowy winter night in the woods near their farm, and as they stop at various locations, Annie poses Chanukah-related riddles: How did their great-grandfather keep warm during the long winter in the shtetl? (With hot potatoes.) Why is it so dark? (There is no moon in the sky on the sixth night of Chanukah.) What do they use for a menorah out in the woods? (Potatoes!) Along the way, the family lights candles, recites the blessings, enjoys some tasty treats and, in the end, shares a prayer of gratitude for the Chanukah blessings. Author Susan Schnur, who is also a Reconstructionist rabbi, says her books reflect her conviction that when children are empowered to create their own rituals, they find meaning in Jewish holidays.
In the outskirts of an Old World shtetl, a kindhearted but poor artist named Misha adopts a cat who turns up in his barn one cold, snowy night during Chanukah, and names his new feline friend Mazel. However, when a peddler arrives at Misha’s home on the holiday’s last day, he recognizes Mazel as his lost cat, Goldie. In the uplifting ending, the two find hope for the future, with the peddler offering to sell Misha’s paintings and Misha taking care of Mazel while the peddler travels. Kids will have fun following the playful Mazel, who turns up in every scene in artist Elisa Vavouri’s large, vivid illustrations.
Joel, an awkward yet endearing 12-year-old boy living with his family in Temple City, California, looks for a Chanukah miracle to bring him some sign of better things to come in a life that so far has had its share of disappointments and hard times. As Joel navigates home, friends and school, where he is the only Jewish kid, his Chanukah takes a downward spin when Joel’s family is invited to light a menorah in front of the whole school. He’s worried about being embarrassed, but bigger worries follow when Joel’s father is hospitalized. Joel eventually discovers that magic and miracles may come in unexpected ways.
On the first night of Chanukah, one huge, hungry bear smells Bubbe Brayna frying her legendary latkes. The bear shows up at her door — at the same moment, it happens, that she’s expecting the village rabbi. Thanks to her poor eyesight, a fun-filled case of mistaken identity ensues as Bubbe Brayna thinks the bear is the rabbi; she feeds him latkes and insists he play a game of dreidel and light the menorah. This book won a National Jewish Book Award in 2013 and now young children can snuggle up to this newly recorded audio version.