“Chanukah Lights,” by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda (Candlewick: $34.99) is a Chanukah book like no other, a beautiful collaboration from two masters of their fields: author Rosen and pop-up-book artist extraordinaire, Sabuda. This ingeniously designed book encompasses a heartfelt look at the Jewish experience within its carefully bound covers. The spare and surprisingly moving text on each of the eight pages takes the reader back to seminal moments in Jewish history, illustrated in amazing and complex paper cutouts.
Upon turning the page, a fully realized historical scene pops up into shapes one would not consider possible within the confines of what appears to be a children’s book. Paper flames flicker, hidden within each tableau, beginning with the ancient Temple rededicated by the Maccabees (one candle) and ending with a fully lit chanukiyah gracing the skyline of a modern city. Along the way, we are treated to a desert tent/camel scene, an incredible six-masted ship transporting Jewish refugees to safety (11 inches high when fully opened), the first synagogue in the New World, a detailed scene of a European shtetl, tenements of the Lower East Side and a kibbutz in Israel. The two talented collaborators have created an intensely moving experience — transporting those who turn the pages, one candle at a time, to the promise of freedom that illuminates the story of Chanukah. Check out amazon.com to view a cool video of how the pop-ups look when fully open.
In “The Golem’s Latkes” (Marshall Cavendish: $17.99), well-known children’s author Eric A. Kimmel mixes the plot of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” into the legend of the Golem and throws in mountains of overflowing latkes, Strega Nona-style. Rabbi Judah needs to visit the emperor on the eve of Chanukah and tells his housemaid Basha to prepare for the holiday. She is allowed to ask the Golem for help, but she mustn’t leave the house, because the Golem will continue working until told to stop. Of course, this being one of those cautionary tales, young Basha leaves the creature to his work while she visits a friend, and the Golem fries up enough latkes to rival the height of the tallest church spire in town. Rabbi Judah comes back just in time to save the day, Basha learns a lesson, and the people of the town end up enjoying loads of latkes for the holiday. The bright, whimsical acrylic paintings by illustrator Aaron Jasinski add historical detail and humor, especially the depictions of the befuddled clay man himself, and are certain to delight young children.
Steven D’Amico’s wonderful illustrations, which seem to be a nod to the graphic design style of the 1960s, will engage any reader of “The Hanukkah Hop!” by Erica Silverman (Simon & Schuster: $12.99), a cleverly rhymed tale for the preschool set about a family preparing for the holiday. Little Rachel sings a refrain at the family’s musical holiday celebration: “Biddy-biddy bim-bom bim-bom bop. I flicker like the flames at our Hanukkah Hop.” Soon the anxiously awaited guests arrive (a klezmer band!), and the party really gets rolling, whirling and “bim-bim-bopping.” Somebody (could it be Dad?) sports a lampshade on his head. The partygoers in the crowded house stomp, swing and sway till Mom brings out pillows and cots for all the exhausted guests, with the exception of young Rachel, who is ready for more.
“Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles,” by Tami-Lehman-Wilzig with Nicole Katzman, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau (Karben: $7.95), offers a different take on a Chanukah story, dedicated to those “who have learned to cope with and embrace children with special needs.” Designed to introduce young children to autism and other developmental disorders, the story is based on co-author Nicole Katzman’s son Nathan, a high-functioning autistic child whose brain is “wired differently,” and who used to enjoy blowing out the family’s Chanukah candles.
It is the first night of Chanukah when Jacob, who has an autistic brother named Nathan, notices that a new family with a boy his age has moved in across the street. Nathan’s behavior, such as blowing out the candles and staring nonstop at spinning dreidels, embarrasses his brother in front of his new playmate, who calls Nathan “weird,” until the two families come up with a creative solution to allow Nathan to be himself and everyone to enjoy the celebrations. The authors use the story to reinforce two important messages of Judaism: “acceptance of every person as a reflection of God’s image, and the importance of both compassion and inclusion into the community.”
The 19th century Yiddish folk tune “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah!” colorfully illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov (Marshall Cavendish: $12.99), will enchant youngsters with its joyous message. The artists are a married couple who met in a Moscow art school. Their charming acrylic paintings portray a happy family Chanukah celebration, including all the boys (and the dog) wearing kippot. One puzzling two-page spread, however, depicts a plentiful Chanukah meal, including latkes, applesauce, sour cream, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and … a nice juicy turkey. Tell the kids it’s a vegan bird, because those festive images will captivate them with their exuberance and shouldn’t be missed.
Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and former children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine.