BOSTON (JTA) — Rhyming verse, lively family scenes, a cute pig who eats kosher pickles — and yes, menorahs, latkes and the Maccabees — are featured in a new crop of Chanukah books for children written by some of the country’s most popular award-winning writers.
"Eight Winter Nights"
Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Elisabeth Schlossberg
Chronicle Books, $16.99; ages 3-8
Laura Krauss Melmed, the award-winning author of an earlier Chanukah book, "Moishe’s Miracle," shines with her lifelong love of rhyme in this delightful family story set in verse. Krauss Melmed captures the warmth of the holiday with a poetic celebration that evokes ritual as well as whimsy.
With each night and new candle, there’s something new to celebrate. On the fifth night, the doorbell rings and in rush the cousins.
“Wild ones, noisy ones/There must be dozens!/
What a commotion, what a delight/when cousins come calling this/Hanukkah night!”
An ode to applesauce that accompanies the latkes has a contagious beat that will ntertain and engage young kids.
Schlossberg’s gloriously colored illustrations bring life to the lively verse. Her depiction of a simple arc-shaped menorah with a rainbow of glowing candles are almost luminous on the page.
Krauss Melmed, a former teacher who holds a master’s degree in early childhood education, told JTA that she wanted to write a book for younger kids that captures the feeling of a family celebrating Chanukah, a home-based holiday.
"Moishe’s Miracle," an Old World, lighthearted tale published in 2005 and illustrated by David Slonim, won the National Jewish Book Award and was made into a PBS special.
"The Hanukkah Trike"
Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter
Albert Whitman, $15.99; ages 4-8
In this simple, heartfelt story that offers a good introduction to the holiday, Gabi lights the menorah, eats latkes, helps her father retell the victorious story of the Maccabees and is surprised with the gift of a shiny new blue tricycle she names Hanukkah. When she has a hard time learning to push the pedals and falls off, the trike gets dirty and Gabi gets bruised.
With encouragement from her mother, and remembering the determination and courage of the Maccabees, they clean the trike, and Gabi gets back on and learns to ride.
Edwards captures the small details that resonate with young kids, such as giving the trike a name and placing her blankie in the trike basket. A winner of the National Jewish Book Award for her first picture book, “Chicken Man,” Edwards was inspired to create the spunky Gabi Greenberg from years of reading with her own daughters such children’s classics as "Madeline," "Babar" and even Harry Potter, who all celebrated Christmas.
“Being Jewish, we didn’t,” she told JTA. “Our years of reading together made me want a spirited character like them,” Edwards wrote in an e-mail.
Kathryn Mitter’s illustrations are playful and appealing for young kids, who will enjoy Gabi’s friendly puppy appearing in almost scene.
"Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher"
Laurel Snyder, illustrations by David Goldin
Tricycle Press, $15.99; ages 4-10
Here’s a fun-filled escapade that will delight readers of all ages with a lovable piglet who’d be welcome in any family.
On a Friday afternoon before sunset, a friendly Jewish man waiting at the bus stop describes to Baxter the wonders and magic of Shabbat, a day of rest with gleaming candles that “glow and dance while our sweetest voices lift in song!”
Poor Baxter: All week he yearns to be invited for a Shabbat dinner.
“You’re not kosher,” a man laughs.
In his quest to become kosher, the curious little pig consumes jars of kosher pickles, loaves of challah and even tries to imitate a cow — a kosher animal, he’s told. At last, Baxter meets a female rabbi who clears up the misunderstanding while assuring Baxter that it is a mitzvah to invite strangers to share a meal.
As the rabbi’s Shabbat guest, Baxter watches as she lights the candles before he finally raises his sweet voice in song. The appealing story may hold special appeal to interfaith families, or anyone who has ever felt left out.
The illustrations are an entertaining and engaging combination of cartoon-like characters and collage. Jars of Bubba’s Kosher Pickles fill the store aisles, along with other traditional Jewish and Israeli foods.
An author’s note describes the custom of inviting guests for Shabbat dinner. A glossary includes helpful, somewhat offbeat, lighthearted descriptions of the book’s Jewish words and expressions.
"Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah"
Tilda Balsley; illustrated by David Harrington
Kar Ben, $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback; ages 4-8
Here is an animated rhyming version of the Chanukah story of King Antiochus, the Maccabees and religious freedom. Young kids will enjoy the repeated refrain, “Sometimes it only takes a few,/ Who know what’s right, and do it, too.” Kar-Ben continues its devotion to producing original, creative Jewish children’s books with a wide appeal.
"The Kvetch Who Stole Hanukkah"
Bill Berlin and Susan Isakoff Berlin, illustrated by Peter J. Welling
Pelican, $16.99; ages 4-8
In the town of Oyville, an old kvetch who lives on the hill is out to steal the menorahs to spoil the celebration of Chanukah in this spirited, obvious Jewish twist on the beloved Dr. Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” But the town’s children upend his plans by persuading the Grinch of the true meaning of Chanukah. The bright, bold, zany illustrations are playful.
Based on the book "Hanukkah Haiku" by Karla Gudeon
Blue Apple Books, $15.99; ages 4-8
A two-sided, 36-piece puzzle featuring two of the colorful, festive illustrations by Karla Gudeon from her book "Hanukkah Haiku," a National Jewish Book Award finalist. A menorah is featured on one side, and the other is a family celebration of dancing around the menorah. The puzzle comes in its own carrying case box shaped like the star of David and can be paired
with the book.
For older readers:
Hanukkah Puzzles (An American Girl Mystery Series)
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
$6.95 paperback; ages 9 and up
Families of tween-age Jewish girls will welcome the latest addition in the American Girl Rebecca series. This one is a mystery for older readers.
Rebecca Rubin is a fictional Jewish American girl, the daughter of immigrants, who lives in New York City in the early 1900s and is one of the 10 popular American Girl characters featured in books of historical fiction that accompany a doll. This mystery explores the earliest years of summer camps for girls, an idea that at the time was considered scandalous by some, according to award-winning series author Dembar Greene.