Arts and Culture | Chanukah

The word on new Chanukah books for kids

In "The Golem's Latkes," the creator goes a little overboard making potato panckaes when it's left alone by a rabbi and his housemaid. (Courtesy Marshall Cavendish)

BOSTON (JTA) — Judah Maccabee, meet the Golem of Prague. And Rebecca Rubin, Engineer Ari, and Nathan and Jacob, two brothers who are part of a modern American Jewish family.

They are among the characters who take center stage in this year’s crop of new children’s books for Chanukah, the eight-day Festival of Lights that begins this year at sundown Dec. 20. The lively mix includes the recent release of an e-book version of a popular chapter book and a dazzling work of design by a renowned paper artist.

Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah!
Illustrated by Olga and Eleksey Ivanov
Marshall Cavendish ($12.99); ages 1-4

A brightly illustrated book version of the popular song features double-page paintings of a family — and their smiling pet dog — celebrating each of the eight nights of Chanukah. Sing along as they light the menorah, dance the hora, eat latkes and play dreidel. An end note explains the origins of the Hebrew and Yiddish versions of the song, a mainstay of the holiday. Music and lyrics are provided. (A PJ Library selection)

Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap
Deborah Bodin Cohen, illustrated by Shahar Kober
Kar-Ben ($7.95); ages 4-8

Board a Chanukah train ride set in Israel, the latest addition to the award-winning series of “Engineer Ari” books that will especially delight train-loving kids. A stubborn camel provides the obstacle as Engineer Ari heads home with a trainload of Chanukah treats and toys. A Bedouin farmer named Kalil comes to the rescue, and together they celebrate the first night of Chanukah. Lively cartoon-like illustrations animate the fun and hopeful story. An author’s note explains the building of the first railway line between Jaffa and Jerusalem.

Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles
Tami Lehman-Wilzig with Nicole Katzman; illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
Kar-Ben ($7.95); ages 4-8

“Is it Hanukkah? Is it Hanukkah?” Jacob’s big brother Nathan repeats the question, and many others, again and again, annoying Jacob. Jacob tries to understand that his brother’s autism causes him to think and act differently, but sometimes Jacob loses his patience. Jacob is embarrassed in front of new neighbors when Nathan blows out the Chanukah candles as if it were a birthday celebration, but he defends Nathan when a new friend makes fun of his brother. The family’s creative response brings everyone together in a fun-filled Chanukah celebration. The story tackles a serious issue without being heavy-handed. (A PJ Library selection)

Chanukah Lights
Michael J. Rosen, Robert Sabuda
Candlewick Press ($34.99); ages 5 and up

This gift book, a stunning collaboration between award-winning writer and poet Michael J. Rosen and master pop-up artist Robert Sabuda, is one that kids might have to pry away from their parents — or they can enjoy together. Rosen in simple language traces the history of celebrating Chanukah and its aspiration for freedom from ancient times to today, from the ancient Temple to the desert, across oceans, to shtetls and the cities of immigrant families, to an olive grove on a kibbutz in Israel. Sabuda’s mesmerizing paper creations emerge miraculously from the folded pages. The artwork is outstanding in both its detail and the simplicity of the images it evokes.

The Story of Hanukkah
David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber
Holiday House ($14.95); ages 4-8

Who was that guy Judah Maccabee and what does he have to do with Chanukah? Parents and educators seeking an informative and engaging book about the historic origins of the holiday will be attracted to David Adler’s signature straightforward style. Adler, the award-winning and popular author of more than 200 books for children, including “The Kids’ Catalog of Hanukkah,” is skillful at enlightening readers unfamiliar with the two-millennia-old story of the great military victory of the Maccabees over religious persecution by their Greek rulers and the miracle of the oil. Jill Weber’s illustrations evoke ancient times with the golden glow of the Temple and dramatic battle scenes of mighty Greek warriors on horses and elephants. The story ends with a modern family celebrating Chanukah. Back pages include Weber’s recipe for latkes and instructions for playing dreidel.

The Golem’s Latkes
Adapted by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Aaron Jasinski
Marshall Cavendish ($17.99); ages 4-8

Master storyteller Eric Kimmel delivers a deliciously mischievous Chanukah spin on an old world legend of the Golem of Prague, a kabbalistic creature with magical powers to help the Jewish people. When Rabbi Judah of Prague leaves his new housemaid Basha with a long list of chores for the holiday celebration, he cautions her not to leave the hard-working golem alone in the house. The only way to get the golem to stop working is to tell him, “Golem, enough!” Kimmel writes. Kids will delight in the inevitable hilarity when Basha takes off to visit her friend and leaves the golem alone making latkes. The fried potato pancakes pile up higher and higher, out the windows, and take over the city streets. A festive ending gathers the whole city for a latkes-eating Chanukah celebration.

Jasinski’s memorable illustrations show the fantastical golem painted more like a Gumby-style robot than a frightening ghoul. Double-page spreads place readers in the action, from the cobblestone streets of Prague to the mountain-high towers of golden potato latkes.

In an e-mail, Kimmel, author of the popular “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” told JTA that he was inspired by earlier versions of the Golem story by children’s writer David Wisniewski, the classic story by renowned Yiddish writer I.B. Singer and the tale of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

“Ghost and goblin stories make for good storytelling,” Kimmel wrote. “That’s why they’ve been around for so long.” (A PJ Library selection)

Candlelight for Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene, illustrations by Robert Hunt
American Girl (6.95 paperback/ e-book available for Kindle and Nook readers)
Ages 8 and up

Set in 1914, Jacqueline Dembar Greene’s historical novel is the third in a series of six popular American Girl books featuring Rebecca Rubin, a Jewish girl who lives with her family on New York City’s Lower East side. Originally published in book form in 2009, it is newly available for electronic reading devices. Rebecca is uneasy when her class is assigned an art project to make a Christmas table decoration because her Jewish family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Rebecca grapples with timeless, universal questions about acceptance and religious freedom that resonate with readers from all backgrounds.

In an e-mail, Dembar Greene told JTA that Jewish readers tell her that they enjoy having their traditions reflected in a series of books. One of the more memorable letters, she said, was from a third-grader at a Catholic school who said that she was amazed to discover so many similarities between the values and social concerns of the two religions.

Playing Dreidel with Judah Maccabee
A play by Edward Einhorn
Theater 61 Press ($14.95); ages 12 and up

Edward Einhorn is the artistic director of a New York-based theater company who served as the director of the Festival of Jewish Theater. Einhorn’s play is a fantasy that travels in time between a modern-day synagogue and ancient Israel. As the young Jonathan spins a dreidel, singing the familiar dreidel song, he is startled by the appearance of an old man dressed in armor. The conversation between Jonathan and Judah Maccabee starts out like a comedy routine, each questioning who the other is, but over eight days a warm relationship develops between the young adolescent and the ancient battle-weary warrior that sheds a contemporary light onto the long arc of Jewish history and ritual. Educators may find this a unique play for performing or reading aloud.