For our final look at new 2014 holiday picture books, I'm reviewing my favorite new Hanukkah titles. (Don't forget to check out new (secular) Christmas books here, as well as brand new books about the nativity here.)
Yiddish folklore offers some of the best available storytelling, so I always get excited when new Hanukkah tales that reflect that heritage are published. Let's take a look at folklore, as well as a couple of picture books that are just plain Hanukkah holiday fun.
Hanukkah Picture Books
Honeykey Hanukah by Woody Guthrie and Dave Horowitz
Nothing better than holidays and folk music! This lovely little picture book pairs a Woody Guthrie (need I say more?) song with energetic, celebratory illustrations, and is accompanied by a CD in which the Klezmatics perform the title song. What a perfect Hanukkah gift! I'm gifting it to my kids' music teacher so she can help introduce Hanukkah to her students.
Eight Candles and a Tree by Simone Bloom Nathan and Brian Barber
There are only a handful of picture books that address interfaith Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations, so I was happy to see this one come out this year. The nice thing about this book, in which a young girl named Sophie introduces her neighbor Tommy to Hanukkah by inviting him to a party, is that it not only is written on a level basic enough for very young children, but also depicts children of varying races.
Beautiful Yetta's Hanukkah Kitten by Daniel and Jill Pinkwater
NPR commentator Daniel Pinkwater, who is well-known for his comical, slightly wacky picture books, re-introduces Yetta the Brooklynite chicken, in this funny holiday frolic. In her picture book debut, Yetta escaped the butcher shop, and now resides among a bunch of New York parrots. On a snowy night Yetta finds a cold kitten, and is determined to save her, despite the reservations of her avian friends. Yetta enlists the help of an old grandmother in the borough, who happens to be looking for latkes to celebrate Hanukkah.
This original picture book melds themes of friendship and problem solving. I love that the Pinkwaters use speech bubbles to introduce not just one but two languages to American readers, as Yetta speaks Yiddish and the parrots speak Spanish, of course.
The Dreidel That Wouldn't Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah by Martha Seig Simpson and Durga Yael Bernhard
If you're looking for a book about Hanukkah that focuses on the meaning of giving, you've found it. Simpson spins a unique tale of a dreidel that will only spin for those who carry the true spirit of Hanukkah within their hearts. The lovely artwork is both folkloric and softly sweet, and the tale refreshingly non-commercial.
Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale by Eric Kimmel and Matthew Trueman
This is my absolute favorite Hanukkah tale of 2014. Kimmel is a renowned picture book storyteller, and he has published several excellent Hanukkah titles in the past. He continues that tradition with this unique picture book. Simon emigrates from the old country to America, with only a sack filled with a menorah, candles, dreidel, and latkes to celebrate Hanukkah during the voyage overseas. Simon ends up shipwrecked on an iceberg and befriends a polar bear by feeding him latkes in exchange for a warm body to sleep next to. (This is his first Hanukkah miracle.) The menorah candles are lit for seven nights, until Simon is rescued by a passing boat who sees his light. This is an engaging story that will pull kids right in. Trueman's blue-hued watercolors add to the sense of cold darkness, and emphasize the symbolic light of Simon's menorah. This is one of those holiday books that kids can enjoy all year, as it broaches themes not just of Hanukkah, but of friendship, survival, immigration, and miracles.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz and David Slonim
One of the funniest adaptations of the classic American folksong I've seen in some time, I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel provides a hilarious way to celebrate Hanukkah. Beloved Bubbe accidentally swallows the dreidel with her bagel, which triggers a serious appetite for more digestively-inappropriate delicacies. Not only is the text truly funny:
I know an old lady who swallowed a dreidel
A Chanukah dreidel she thought was a bagel...
Perhaps it's fatal.
but the illustrator's send-ups to famous pieces of art, such as Edvard Muench's The Scream, add yet another level to the comedy.
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