Jewish Journal


November 21, 2012

Books that make perfect Chanukah gifts


This season’s crop of Chanukah books for kids brings us welcome reissues of two old favorites, along with a colorful multicultural tale welcoming a new baby. For older youths, an outstanding graphic novel may be just the right kind of gift. And somehow, once again, some prehistoric pals have managed to get in on the holiday fun. 

The good news is that “Jeremy’s Dreidel” (Kar-Ben Publishing) by Ellie Gellman, has been updated and re-released after 20 years. Parents and teachers never tired of sharing this classic 1992 Chanukah story on account of the emotional wallop it delivers and the discussions that inevitably followed. Unfortunately, the original story started to feel a bit dated. Now we can all thank Kar-Ben publishers for requesting that Gellman take a fresh look at her previous work. She cleverly tightened the narrative, and a new illustrator, Maria Mola, was found who attractively reimagines the artwork. 

The story revolves around a youngster named Jeremy who attends a dreidel-making workshop at his local JCC. Even though the other kids are coming up with unusual ideas for their dreidel projects, Jeremy is sticking with a simple ball of clay and molding little dots onto the sides. Does he know a secret code? It turns out Jeremy’s father is blind and this dreidel is meant to be a special gift for his dad. Interesting information about dreidels, Chanukah, Braille and how blind people use modern technology is seamlessly interwoven within the narrative. The wonderful idea to reimagine this 20-year-old picture book now enables a new generation of kids to think a bit more about how a diverse community can celebrate holidays together in meaningful ways.

“Maccabee Meals: Food and Fun for Hanukkah” (Kar-Ben) by Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler and illustrated by Ursula Roma has also been reissued, and it is full of fun facts and simple recipes children will enjoy. Here’s one for starters: “The first day of Hanukkah and Christmas day coincide once every 38 years. The next time it will happen will be in 2016.” Such valuable trivia, along with delightful and simple recipes, can be found in this new addition to the Chanukah bookshelf. The thin paperback cookbook also includes such information as the candle-lighting blessings in English and Hebrew, dreidel trivia, table crafts and decoration ideas. 

This is another clever do-over of an old favorite from 20 years ago written by the same authors. Of course, you will find simple recipes for cookies, latkes and sufganiyot, but have your kids ever considered spooning shredded potatoes into a heated waffle iron, baking them for brunch and topping them with yogurt? Certainly preschoolers would happily busy themselves preparing a menorah sandwich — cream cheese or peanut butter on bread, eight pretzel-stick candles, one carrot-stick shamash and nine raisins as flames. Plus, who needs those store-bought chocolate coins when you have a recipe to make your own gelt and have more fun? So if you’re noticing your young chefs are watching too many Food Network shows, maybe you’ll find a plate of chicken latkes, hero sandwiches or hot dog mini-kabobs at your next Chanukah celebration by leaving the preparations to them.

“Room for the Baby” (Random House) by Michelle Edwards and illustrated by Jana Christy poses the question: What do you do when a new baby is coming, but there’s just no place to put her? The sewing room would be a perfect baby’s bedroom, but that’s also the room where Mom saves stuff — and lots of it. There are stacks of worn-out sheets, boxes of leftover yarn, various bolts of flannel and a wide variety of other odds and ends. Luckily, Mom is blessed with creative talent and nine months of ideas. As the queen of recycling, she (along with helpful neighbors) snips, sews and knits, and by the time the baby is born, on the third night of Chanukah, the little one has stacks of tiny sleepers, diapers and toys, along with a decorative, repurposed room.  

The author depicts members of a joyous Jewish family whose daily lives revolve around the Jewish calendar. They bake challah for Shabbat and dip apples in honey for the New Year, while living happily in a multicultural city neighborhood where everyone is willing to help each other out. The bright, amusing illustrations reflect the same use and reuse of various funky fabrics and textures as the storyline champions. The marvelous art of the endpapers includes colorful fabrics, spools of thread, yarn, baby onesies, menorahs and apples with honey — all things that will surely attract young children. This charming book melds the pleasures of Jewish family life with the excitement of anticipating the arrival of a new baby.

Huge colorful illustrations of mischievous dinosaurs grace each page of “How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?” (Blue Sky Press) by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Those with vast dino-knowledge will recognize such beasts as the dracorex, nodosaur and scelidosaurus — creatures seemingly in need of instruction regarding proper Jewish holiday etiquette as they interrupt the prayers, blow out candles and peek under the bed in search of gifts. By the time the eight nights are over, however, these dinosaurs have learned to take turns with the dreidel, clear away dishes and behave properly. 

The text is simple and rhythmic, but the stars of the pages are those signature, oversize dinosaurs by Teague. Kids will get a Chanukah primer while happily memorizing Paleolithic terms, and parents of little ones will recognize a bit of familiarity in the dinosaurs’ entertaining antics.

Those looking for a gift for kids who like comics and adventure stories can’t go wrong with “Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite” (Amulet) by author/illustrator Barry Deutsch. This highly anticipated sequel to the 2010 Sydney Taylor Award-winning graphic novel has nothing to do with the holiday of Chanukah, but it would certainly make a fabulous gift. Deutsch continues the zany exploits of brave Mirka (the 11-year-old troll-fighting Orthodox Jewish girl), who is back with a new adventure featuring a six-legged-troll, a witch and a talking meteorite. And … believe it or not, the entire full-color comic fantasy co-exists naturally within a completely authentic portrayal of the Orthodox Jewish experience. 

Although our imperfect heroine was grounded for her sword fighting chronicled in the first book, “How Mirka Got Her Sword,” now she’s back and ready for more. After losing a difficult game of chess to her wise stepmother, Fruma, Mirka is challenged to “imagine the person you want to become someday.” A few misguided decisions eventually lead her to battle her own doppelganger — a rogue meteorite that has been turned into Mirka’s twin by the funky village witch. Kids will love the zany plot and the brilliance of the art that proves superior at conveying typical childhood emotions with great empathy. What a treat to have Mirka back! Parents and relatives of 9- to 12-year-olds of any denomination who like comics, reading or action surely won’t go wrong by picking up the first two volumes of this witty and popular new series for middle-grade readers. 

Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library.

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