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Chanukah Feature Some Zaniness and History for Children in Holiday Books

December 7, 2006
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A mythical bird with vision problems is among the colorful characters in this year’s crop of Chanukah books for children. And here’s the real miracle: Five books each spell the holiday Hanukkah.

“Eight Wild Nights: A Family Hanukkah Tale,” by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by David Udovic.

Delightful holiday mischief reigns in this zany story of a family’s eight-day celebration. It’s hard to decide which is more hilarious, Cleary’s lighthearted, antic-filled, rhyming prose or the uproar of Udovic’s cartoon-like illustrations that nearly jump off each two-page spread of this 21-page tale.

On the first night, Miss Fetter’s pint-sized shaggy dog dressed in an angora sweater wreaks havoc as it nearly topples over the menorah, chases the cat and causes Aunt Myra to spill the platter of applesauce. More adventures await with a tale from Grandpa sure to please the bathroom-humor crowd, chocolate gelt melting in the VCR, and the arrival of 17 step-cousins. But who’s counting?

Not to worry. “After eight days of eating, Of loud noise and greeting, A great miracle’s happened here: We’re quiet and calm, and all getting along, and we can’t wait to do it next year!”

“The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle,” by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn.

Poor Ziz. The big, colorful bird is sad because by summer’s end, with the nights getting shorter, it’s hard to fall asleep at sundown and the Ziz can’t see what it’s eating. When the mythical Ziz goes to God for help, God offers a lamp of oil. Ah, a miracle. But Ziz doesn’t want to share with the other creatures that come to bask in the light.

“No, it’s mine,” the Ziz shrieks as it flies off in tears from its home on Mount Sinai. The Ziz stops to rest at the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of its rededication. Inspired by the light of the glowing menorah, and with the encouragement of a family of mice and an owl, the Ziz learns the meaning of friendship and sharing the miracle of light.

Jules and Kahn are successfully paired again in their third illustrated Ziz tale. Their latest effort is a warmhearted, tender story that draws from the miracle of light, offering gentle assurance to children who might fear the darkness of winter.

“Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels,” by Deborah Heiligman, with consulting from Rabbi Shira Stern.

This feast of photographs of Chanukah celebrations around the world will tantalize children and adults. Heiligman and National Geographic have created a virtual holiday travelogue. The text is straightforward, with explanations of the rituals and customs emphasizing the themes of sharing, tzedakah and the miracle of light. Kids will have fun learning from U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman how the dreidel never stops spinning in space.

Photos include Chanukah celebrations in Rome, India, Uganda, Israel, Ghana and Peru. Instructions for playing dreidel and lighting the menorah, facts about Chanukah, a reference list of books and Web sites, and the author’s recipe for potato latkes make this an informative resource for families.

“The Miracle of Hanukkah,” by Seymour Chwast.

In this captivating book, the Chanukah story is retold in a unique stepped-page format. Chwast, an award-winning graphic designer and illustrator, starts with small, illustrated cutouts and creates new images with each page that grow as the story progresses. The effect is dazzling and fun. The narrative, with the Maccabees’ triumphant victory, is told in simple prose embellished with outlined illustrations that evoke the Temple era.

“I Have a Little Dreidel,” by Maxie Baum, illustrated by Julie Paschkis.

Children will tap their feet along with the two rhyming stories in one based on the well-known, popular song of the same name. A young girl with braids proudly holds up her little dreidel, inviting young readers to celebrate Chanukah with her cousins, aunts and uncles. Plenty of latkes, dreidels, menorah lighting, singing and dancing in this warmly illustrated story. Paschkis uses a paper-cut design, simple illustrations and a boldly colored palette to enliven the story. Easy-to-read verse is set apart at the bottom of each page surrounded by intricate blue-and-white designs of Jewish symbols.

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