13 Chanukah Picture Books by Sandra Bornstein
As a child growing up in the 1960s, I cannot remember reading any picture books about Chanukah. I always felt marginalized when my Jewish traditions were overshadowed by the classroom celebrations of Christmas. None of my elementary school teachers ever asked the Jewish kids to share any of their traditional foods or customs.
Schools that have adapted a multicultural philosophy have changed this scenario. Students are encouraged to share their customs and traditions. Nowadays, parents, teachers, and children can choose from a wide variety of Chanukah picture books. While certain ones are intended for a Jewish audience, there are a significant number that can be enjoyed by anyone interested in Chanukah.
This year, Chanukah is early (November 27- December 5). It coincides with Thanksgiving (November 28). This year’s timing provides some space between the commercial focus of Christmas and the minor festival of Chanukah. Chanukah, an historically based festival focuses on religious intolerance and freedom. While both religious holidays begin with the letter “C”, the holidays are not connected in any way. The story of Chanukah chronicled in Maccabees I and II occurred during the 2nd century BCE, long before the time of Jesus.
To get a taste of the wide variety of Chanukah books that are available, I will share 13 noteworthy Chanukah books.
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snickett and illustrated by Lisa Brown (2007)
Reminiscent of the Ginger Bread story, Snickett’s latke scampers out of the kitchen and encounters several Christmas icons. The dialogue between the latke and symbols expresses the differences between the rituals and the importance that one’s identity be accepted.
The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn and illustrated by Bill Farnsworth (1995)
Cohn’s story is based on events that occurred in Billings Montana in 1993. Families of different backgrounds and faith united against anti-Semitic attacks. The book provides multiple avenues for discussing the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs.
Elijah’s Angel by Michale J. Rosen and illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson. (1992)
A renowned African American Christian woodcutter and a young Jewish boy create a memorable relationship that illustrates the importance of respecting religious differences. This book can be a starting point for understanding the fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity.
Hanukkah Lights: Holiday Poetry Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and pictures by Melanie Hall (2004)
This small collection of poetry is found in An I Can Read Book Level 2 book.
Hanukkah Haiku by Harriett Ziefert and illustrated by Karla Gudeon (2008)
This is a very short book designed for preschoolers. However, it provides good examples of how haiku can describe simple aspects of Chanukah
Holocaust and Chanukah
One Candle by Eve Bunting and illustrated by K. Wendy Popp (2002)
Through the eyes of a child, readers will learn about how Jews celebrate Chanukah as well as hear a retelling of how some Holocaust survivors cherished the celebration of Chanukah in Buchenwald. Passing the story from one generation to the next reaffirms the importance of following traditions.
Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story by Marci Stillerman and illustrated by Pesach Gerber (1998)
See previous Nerdy Book Club posting- Notable Holocaust Picture Books Illustrate People Making a Difference.
Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue by Heidi Smith Hyde and illustrated by Jamel Akib (2012)
Readers will get a glimpse of 18th century American Jewish history in Massachusetts. Jewish immigrants from Portugal were afraid to reveal their Jewish identity. The use of their menorah becomes a lifesaver.
Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Greg Harlin (2006)
This book takes Chanukah back to the time of the Revolutionary War. George Washington comes upon a soldier who is lighting Chanukah candles. The dialogue provides information about Chanukah and the significance of fighting for freedom.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (1985)
Hershel comes to the rescue when a town is besieged by goblins who prevent them from celebrating Chanukah. While fighting off the goblins readers learn various things about Chanukah. Good overcomes evil when Hershel is able to outsmart the group of scary goblins.
The Magic Dreidels: A Hanukkah Story by Eric A Kimmel and illustrated by Katya Krenina (1996)
Story teller Kimmel retells the tale of “The Tablecloth, the Donkey and the Stick” in a Chanukah setting . A goblin outwits a trickster woman who is trying to take advantage of a young Jewish boy. Everyone benefits from the goblin’s goodness.
History and Celebration
On Hanukkah by Cathy Goldberg Fishman and illustrated by Melanie W. Hall (1998)
This is a beautifully illustrated book that provides an overview of the holiday as seen through the eyes of a young girl. The narrative includes a brief history as well as information on how the holiday is celebrated.
Celebrating Holidays Without Love Ones
Papa’s Latkes by Michelle Edwards and illustrated by Stacey Schuett (2004)
Coping with the loss of a parent during a holiday time can be challenging for children. Edwards tenderly addresses the effect on two sisters who work together with their dad to celebrate their first Chanukah without their mom.
Can you share a favorite Chanukah book?
Sandra Bornstein wrote the award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. The memoir chronicles her living and international teaching adventure in India. Sandra writes a blog that focuses on education, travel, Jewish culture, and general musing. She is a licensed Colorado teacher with a Linguistically Diverse Education K-12 endorsement and two masters’ degrees- one in education and the other in Jewish Studies. You can find her on Twitter as @sandrabornstein.