Like any good Jewish family (especially one that’s signed up for PJ Library), we have a lot of Hanukkah children’s books in our house. Some are silly, some are serious, but all are loved by our sons who seem to desire nothing more in this world than us reading to them. And that works out well, because we have nothing else to do in our adult lives than to read to them. (Sarcasm much?)
Given the fact that we have a family that has some converted-to-the-Tribe members and some extended members who still celebrate Christmas, we can’t pretend Christmas doesn’t exist and we try really hard to not portray Hanukkah as “better” than Christmas or more worthy of being celebrated because it’s not. In addition, we live in a very integrated and diverse city and community, and we don’t want our boys to feel Christmas is something to be squeamish about since we are often one of the “only ones” not participating in certain Christmas activities in our community. That being said, we really like books and stories that highlight Hanukkah and Christmas’ differences in non-judgmental and humorous ways.
Here are my top recommendations.
1. Hanukkah book that annoys my husband the most.
On the First Night of Hanukkah, by Cecily Kaiser, illustrated by Brian Schatell.
My husband is really annoyed by this book. It is designed to be sung to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” melody but features eight nights of Hanukkah. It’s simple enough for toddlers but interesting enough for older kids (each page features each of the previous page’s items to search for), it’s fun to sing along to (unless you are my husband and are annoyed by singing this song over and over), and it gives the opportunity to talk about different song traditions and different cultural ones too. Bright cartoony illustrations. Cute. And potentially annoying to certain husbands.
2. Hanukkah book that delineates the holidays with wit.
A Confused Hanukkah: An Original Story of Chelm, by Jon Koons, Illustrated by S.D. Schindler, 2004.
The “fools of Chelm” are a classic Jewish foil–dopey but loveable–the people of Chelm show up throughout Jewish fables being silly and clueless. In this particular twist on the Chelm-ites, the Jews of Chelm forget how to celebrate Hanukkah and end up accidentally celebrating like Christmas until they figure it all out. It highlights the differences between the holidays and it’s fun to gently point out distinctions between the two. It has a sweet ending and the illustrations are lovely. It’s a longer book, with more of a complicated plot to follow. Good for younger kids, though, for sure.
3. Hanukkah Book That Rocks the Hardest.
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, by Lemony Snicket, 2008.
This book wins our personal admiration for being the cleverest Hanukkah book we have ever seen, the most elegantly illustrated, the most appealing for adults, and the most appropriate for small people and big people alike. This delicious little book is a wonderful and accurate portrayal of a misunderstood Jew, er…latke, who has to repeatedly explain to all of the “mainstream” Christmas cultural items he meets (lights, candy canes, etc), that he is not associated with Christmas, ought not be mistaken for a side dish for a Christmas ham, and is something “completely different!” This feisty little latke even loses his voice from having to repeat this so often and so vociferously. The book’s darling ending is dark (as Snicket is wont to be), but it catches even the shrewdest adult off-guard in a very delightful way. The plot, the historical accuracy in retelling the Hanukkah story, the illustrations, and the ability for children to scream along which, if it continues as it has been may earn this book the “Hanukkah book that annoys my husband the most” title by next year. A winner all around.
Chag Hanukkah Sameach!