Jewish Journal

New Kids’ Books Hitting the Shelves at Chanukah

by Penny Schwartz, JTA

Posted on Dec. 9, 2009 at 2:01 am

From all corners of the globe, to under the sea and above the skies, a new crop of children’s books for Chanukah takes readers on a worldwide spin with delightful and informative books for kids of all ages.

“Hanukkah Around the World” by Tami Lehman-Wilzig, illustrated by Vicki Wehrman (Kar-Ben, $16.95 hardcover, $7.95 paper; ages 8-11).

Move over latkes, make room for precipizi. And sufganiyot, debla cookies and burmelos. These are among the traditional sweets eaten in Jewish homes from Italy to Israel, Tunisia and Turkey during the eight-day Festival of Lights. Recipes for the treats are featured in “Hanukkah Around the World” by Israeli American children’s writer Tami Lehman-Wilzig. The illustrated travelogue takes young readers to eight faraway places around the globe.

First stop, the Israeli city of Modi’in, the ancient biblical home of the Maccabees where the Chanukah story began 2,000 years ago. Today the city comes alive to celebrate its beloved holiday with a relay race to Jerusalem and eight days of kid-friendly festivities, Lehman-Wilzig writes in an e-mail from her home in Israel.

Each of the eight cities featured includes a short fictional story that highlights local customs, historical notes, current events and easy-to-follow recipes. Back pages include Chanukah potpourri from other locales and a glossary.

The custom that most impressed Lehman-Wilzig was in Turin, where a custom connects the summertime observance of Tisha B’Av, commemorating the ancient destruction of the Temple, with Chanukah, recalling the rededication of the Temple.

“It’s a wonderful way to close the circle and is a custom to be cherished,” she writes.

“Menorah Under the Sea”
by Esther Susan Heller (Kar-Ben, $17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paper; ages 4-8).

“Menorah Under the Sea” is a photo essay-style book that follows the explorations of David Ginsburg, a marine ecologist from Los Angeles who takes readers on an adventure to McMurdo station in Antarctica. The journal-like narrative describes how Ginsburg and his research partner, who arrived in Antarctica on the first night of Chanukah, use rubber dry suits to emerge under the treacherous waters.

While collecting sea urchins and starfish for his research, Ginsburg is inspired suddenly to create a menorah on the sea floor using the neon-like sea urchins and starfish. Captured on film, and reproduced in the book, the glowing menorah is a sparkling and inspiring wonder. Notes at the book’s end explain that sea urchins are invertebrates and have no central nervous system. During Ginsburg’s menorah assembly, readers are reassured, no animals were harmed.

“The Rabbi and the Twenty-Nine Witches” by Marilyn Hirsh (Marshall Cavendish, $17.99; ages 4-9).

This is a republication of a Jewish children’s classic, by the late Marilyn Hirsh, an internationally acclaimed, award-winning artist and writer. Hirsh brings a light-hearted touch to this old legend from the Talmud about a cave full of witches, frightened villagers, the full moon and a wise rabbi. Her whimsical black-and-white line illustrations, with blue throughout, will delight readers; even the wicked witches are more slapstick than frightening.

Hirsh, who died of cancer in 1988, was a consummate professional and a uniquely talented artist, recalls the noted children’s writer David Adler, who worked with Hirsh while he was an editor at the Jewish Publication Society. Adler recalls that in the early 1980s, though she was ill and hospitalized, Hirsh illustrated the JPS’s 50th anniversary edition of “The Adventures of K’ton Ton,” the classic Jewish children’s series by Sadie Rose Weilerstein.

“The Amazing Menorah of Mazeltown” by Hal Dresner and Joy Fate, illustrated by Neil Shapiro (Red Rock Press, $16.95; ages 4-8).
When Molly and Max find an old, grimy menorah in their father’s junk shop, they discover the power of the menorah to transform their dreary town in the dark days of winter.

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