What’s new for kids to read at Hanukkah? Try a fresh take on a 1950s classic.


(JTA) — Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie. The names of the five fictional sisters bring a smile to generations of Jewish Americans who grew up reading “All-of-a-Kind Family,” the classic chapter book series by Sydney Taylor that followed the day-to-day doings and adventures of a Jewish-American immigrant family on New York’s Lower East Side.

The trailblazing series, which was published between 1951 and 1978, marked the first time that a children’s book about a Jewish-American family found an audience in both Jewish and non-Jewish American homes.

Now the beloved family comes to life in “All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah,” the first fully illustrated picture book based on the series, by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky. The dynamic writer-illustrator team will charm young readers with this delightful story that reflects the warmth and spirited character of the original and creates a new chapter for this generation.

It’s among nine new outstanding and engaging children’s books for Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights that begins this year on Sunday evening, Dec. 2.

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah
Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky
Schwartz & Wade Books; ages 3 to 8

Jenkins, an award-winning author, grew up reading the “All-of-a-Kind” classics — over and over, she told JTA.

“As an only child, I adored books about big families and their escapades,” she wrote in an email.

Jenkins read the books to her children, who were just as smitten.

For this illustrated book, set on the eve of Hanukkah in 1912, Jenkins focused on Gertie, the spunky 4-year-old, as the family gets ready to celebrate the holiday. Adults familiar with the chapter books will spot various references to the original — such as the ginger snaps hidden in the bed, Ella’s favorite hymn and a special library book, Jenkins revealed.

Zelinsky said illustrating the Taylor classic was a chance to reconnect with the books his daughters adored. In a phone conversation, the Brooklynite, whose recognition for excellence includes the prestigious Caldecott Award for “Rapunzel,” said he immersed himself in the “All-of-a-Kind” world, down to the details of what the storybook family’s New York apartment looked like.

Zelinsky stepped away from his well-known finer, more detailed style and embraced bolder, less polished illustrations that he said matched Gertie’s passion and reflect the soul of the stories. In one spectacular double-page spread, kids get a cutaway view of the family apartment: In the bedroom, Gertie is hiding under the bed after a tantrum while Mama and her sisters are in the adjacent kitchen joyfully preparing potato latkes.

The back pages include notes from Jenkins and Zelinsky that fill in details about Taylor and the creation of this new book.

How It’s Made: Hanukkah Menorah
Allison Ofanansky; Photographs by Eliyahu Alpern
Apples & Honey Press; ages 7-12

Family members of all ages will gather round this engaging book, which shines a light on all things menorah. The 32 pages of Ofanansky’s text, brought to life by Alpern’s vibrant photographs, explain the holiday and explore the many types of menorahs — from antiques to creative whimsical versions. Kids go behind the scenes with menorah-making artists.

A fun fact reveals that one Israeli bakery fries and bakes 2,000 doughnuts for each day of Hanukkah. Gifts, songs and blessings in Hebrew, English and transliterated from Hebrew are also included along with instructions for making candles, olive oil and latkes.

Light the Menorah! A Hanukkah Handbook
Jacqueline Jules; illustrated by Kristina Swarner
Kar-Ben; ages 4-10

In this contemporary guide to Hanukkah, families discover unique ways to celebrate Hanukkah that give deeper meaning to the ritual of lighting the menorah, as well as easy to understand explanations of the holiday. Jules, an award-winning author, offers a short verse for each of the eight nights that can be read after lighting the menorah. They reflect the holiday’s themes of religious freedom, courage and miracles.

Swarner’s illustrations and border designs add warmth and glow. Songs, rules for playing dreidel and instructions for simple crafts such as a homemade coupon gift book make this book a welcome resource.

My Family Celebrates Hanukkah
Lisa Bullard; illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo
Lerner Publications; ages 4-8

This easy-to-follow illustrated story is perfect for families and classrooms. Kids learn about the Hanukkah tale and the miracle of how a small amount of oil lasted eight days. Families celebrate, light candles, play dreidel, and receive chocolate and coins as gifts. The book’s end pages explain the holiday and pose reading-based questions helpful for educators.

Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups
Shanna Silva; illustrated by Bob McMahon
Apples & Honey Press; ages 4-8

Uh, oh. Or make that Uh-hic-oh! Hannah Hope Hartman, a spunky young girl who lives in a brownstone on Hester Street, is practicing for her religious school’s Hanukkah program when she suddenly gets a case of the hiccups – and they just won’t go away! Her brother Henry tries to cure her by making funny faces. The building’s diverse neighbors offer their own customs: drinking pickle juice backwards; a Mexican red string cure and cardamom cookies.

Kids will relate to Hannah, who doesn’t want to be in the school program with the hiccups and finds a creative solution.

Silva’s heartwarming story — and the play on words that begin with the letter ‘h” — is perfectly paired with McMahon’s cartoon-like illustrations in this lively, laugh-out-loud yarn that shines with the light of a family’s Hanukkah celebration.

Hanukkah Hamster
Michelle Markel; illustrated by Andre Ceolin
Sleeping Bear Press; ages 4-8

In Michelle Markel’s heartwarming tale, set in a bustling city aglow in the lights of December’s winter holidays, a hamster turns up in Edgar’s taxi. He reports the missing pet to the lost and found, takes him home and names him Chickpea, like the Israeli salad he feeds him. Edgar, far from his family in Tel Aviv, shares the holiday with the hamster but is determined to find his owner in this lighthearted and touching story of kindness and friendship.

Andre Ceolin’s animated illustrations will delight young kids, from Edgar’s bright yellow cab to Chickpea’s playful antics sliding down a cardboard tube and the warm glow of Hanukkah candles.

The Story of Hanukkah
David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber
Holiday House; Board book, ages 2-4

In this vibrantly illustrated board book, the award-winning David Adler retells the story of Hanukkah in simple, straightforward prose for young readers, paired with richly colored bold illustrations by Weber, the team that wrote the original (2011) version for older kids. The end depicts a modern family celebrating Hanukkah.

Light the Menorah: A Playful Action Rhyme
Tova Gitty Broide; illustrated by Patti Argoff
Hachai Publishing; ages 1-4

This lively rhyming book features two young brothers and a sister from a haredi Orthodox family joyfully celebrating Hanukkah, with latkes hopping in the frying pan and the sister spinning like a dreidel.

Dreidel Day
Amalia Hoffman
Kar-Ben; ages 1-4

Young kids will spin, bounce and tumble their way through Hanukkah along with a lively kitty in this delightful board book that glows like the colors of a box of holiday candles. Little ones can count out loud with each double-page spread that features one word and one number and discover the corresponding number of colorful dreidels.

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