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Hanukkah Books Capture Hearts of All Generations

If I had a quarter for every time someone advised me, “Ellie, you should write a book,” I would be…let me think here…I need my calculator…about $5.25 richer. Actually, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to finish a children’s picture book, get it published, and sell my soul to amazon. com.

Speaking of books, the upcoming holiday season is a great time to read together as a family. With the courageous Judah Maccabee legend, the symbolic menorah-lighting ritual, the fun-filled gift exchanges, and so many other favorite family traditions, the Festival of Lights makes an ideal setting for a heartwarming story that appeals to all generations. Not only that, the sooner young children are exposed to books, the better chance their parents have to delay the inevitable distraction of addictive Nintendo Wii, which ranks high on many wish lists. Even though the PJ Library book selection committee recommends the following titles for children mostly age six and under, the beautiful illustrations and new twists on Hanukkah miracles hold the attention of adult readers as well. I can’t help but smile when I read the pages that invite me into the glowing Hanukkah celebrations of families all over the world. So to help you get in the mood for latkes, dreidels, and messages of love and faith, here’s a few Hanukkah stories that your children (and you) will adore.

When Mindy Saved Hanukkah, by Eric Kimmel (publisher: Scholastic)
Once upon a time, a family of little people named the Kleins lived behind the wall of New York City’s historic Eldridge Street Synagogue. Think The Borrowers. To give you an idea of how small Mindy and her family are, they use a thimble for a table and spin a dreidel that is life size. Clever, huh? Every Hanukkah they make their own candles, but his year the temple’s ferocious cat, Antiochus, gets in their way. Mindy, Zayde, and Papa save the holiday like the Macabbees. Humorous characters and an engaging story are illustrated with Victorian charm.

The back cover also includes Bubbe Klein’s recipe for golden potato latkes, which makes about 45 three-inch latkes or 1,440 Mindy-sized latkes.

The Only One Club, by Jane Nailboff (publisher: Flashlight Press)
Any Jewish child in public school can relate to being a minority, especially during the December holidays. In this touching story, six-year-old Jennifer thinks it’s way cool that she’s the only first-grader in her class who celebrates Hanukkah. She even gets to hang her decorations in the window before anyone else does. When she gets home from school that day, she starts “The Only One Club,” and she resists letting other members join her exclusive clique. Eventually, she discovers that everyone is “the only one” for something, and the class comes together to celebrate each person’s uniqueness. This book encourages young readers to look beyond race or culture for special qualities in others and explores our natural desire to belong and be a part of a group. Now why didn’t I think of that?

Runaway Latkes, by Leslie Kimmelman (publisher: Albert Whitman & Company)
The irresistible plot of “The Gingerbread Boy” comes alive again in this delightful tale about three crisp, brown latkes that jump out of a frying pan and, you guessed it, run away from hungry people chasing after them. There’s no serious message here, but the story is fun as the sassy potato pancakes tease the rabbi, the cantor, and the mayor singing, “Big and round, crisp and brown, off we roll to see the town. And YOU can’t catch us!” Finally, the latkes plop into Applesauce River where a modern-day Hanukkah miracle happens. Now why didn’t I think of that? As if you didn’t have enough latke recipes, here’s another one that includes a dash of cinnamon and chopped parsley.

It’s A Miracle! A Hanukkah Storybook, by Stephanie Spinner (publisher: Simon & Schuster)
Owen is almost seven years old and is the new O.C.L.—the Official Candle Lighter—in his family. After he lights the menorah on each nigh of Hanukkah, his Grandma Karen tucks Owen into bed, kicks off her cowboy boots, and shares a bedtime story with lovable, quirky characters that remind Owen of the people in his family. For example, on the first night, Owen listens in awe of an inspiring story about a girl (his cousin Shira) who dreams of becoming a rabbi. On the sixth night, Owen is amazed about a talking parrot named Dreidel, who helps a dentist (Grandpa Harold) tell his patients to “open wide!” On the seventh night, Owen is all ears when he hears another silly story about a boy named Chip (his own father!) who wants to be a baby and whose parents let him. With engaging dialogue and elaborate illustrations, this appealing book takes readers on a journey with Owen as he discovers how each of these stories is also a celebration of his own heritage. In fact, you’ll wish bandana-clad Grandma Karen is your own relative.
On the last pages, this book includes the Hanukkah legend, blessings, and a handy glossary.

Latkes, Latkes Good To Eat, by Naomi Howland (publisher: Clarion Books)
The author and illustrator are one in the same, and Howland’s literary and artistic excellence makes this entertaining folktale a real keeper year after year. Sadie and her four mischievous younger brothers live in a small, picturesque cottage on the outskirts of a tiny Russian village. Their house is so drafty, “the wind whistles through it like a train going to Moscow.” And they are so poor “that the one coin in Sadie’s purse never has another coin to keep it company.” And they are always hungry. On the first bitterly cold night of winter, Sadie hikes in the snow in search of firewood. She runs into an old woman, who is also cold and hungry and whose face is “as creased and lined as a bit of wrinkled cloth.” (So I like descriptive analogies). Sadie unselfishly gives her bundle of wood to the stranger, and the old woman gives the girl in exchange a magic frying pan that cooks up “golden, tongue-burning, hot, tender yet crisp, lacy, luscious, brown-flecked, savory, salty, scrumptious” potato pancakes on command. The grateful family is hungry no more, but only Sadie has the power to turn on and off the magic pan. On the last day of Hanukkah, Sadie goes back outside looking for the mysterious lady who she calls “Tante” (Yiddish for aunt), and she warns her brothers not to touch the magic pan…or else. Of course, the naughty boys use the magic pan anyway and get themselves into all kinds of hilarious trouble when endless salty and savory latkes start to magically cook faster than they can gobble them down. Thanks to exquisite illustrations and enchanting text, readers are in for a treat!

I Have A Little Dreidel, by Maxine Baum (Publisher: Scholastic)
With a familiar tune repeated on each page, kids seem to automatically sing the words instead of reading them. This illustrated version of the classic dreidel song cleverly adds new verses detailing a contemporary family’s celebration of Hanukkah. Festive folk art complement the rhyming story about a family and their relatives as they prepare and eat delicious latkes, light eight candles, and play the dreidel game. The original song appears on each facing page, so young readers will enjoy the repetition when they read aloud. The book is complete with a recipe of potato latkes, directions for playing the dreidel game, and the original score for families who are musically inclined.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is obsessing over her speech for her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah, so please feel free to send any advice to: ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.