Four Illuminating Holiday Books


The warmth and glow of the Hanukkah menorah figure brightly in this year’s new crop of holiday books for children, by award-winning writers and illustrators from around the world. Enjoy.

By Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Clara Gudeon
36 pages. Blue Apple Books. $14.99.
Ages 4-8

“For eight days and nights,
special candles we will light.
It is Hanukkah.”

Each night of Hanukkah is graced with one of Ziefert’s clever, festive three-line haiku relating to the holiday. The design and layout will delight young readers. There’s a double-page layout for each of the eight nights featuring a large menorah. As the pages are turned, one more brightly colored candle is added. Lively, detailed drawings on the left flap of each page correspond to the haiku, with spinning dreidels and frying latkes. Hanukkah blessings are printed in back, transliterated and in English translation. Families may be inspired to create their own haiku.

By Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrated by Judith Hierstein
32 pages. Pelican Publishing Company. $15.95.
Ages 4-8

Young Nathan knows his mind. He’s saved his quarters and sets out with his grandfather to buy his very own menorah for Hanukkah. But who knew there were so many styles—from electric, to oil, to modern-art versions. And oh so expensive. But then Nathan spots just the right menorah in the window of the neighborhood second-hand shop. Dembar Greene has created an endearing story of a timeless bond between grandfather and grandchild. Young readers will easily relate to Nathan’s double dose of disappointment when at first he can’t find the menorah of his dreams and then, when he finally discovers just the right one, it costs more money than he’s saved. A story from his grandfather’s childhood offers Nathan the inner courage to bargain with the old shopkeeper for a satisfying ending. This book was first published in 1986, with two-tone illustrations, and went of print after 11 years. This newly published edition has shorter text and an entirely new format. Author Jacqueline Dembar Greene, a two-time recipient of the Sydney Taylor Honor Book Award and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, tells that she has a varied collection of menorahs ranging from traditional to one handmade by her mother. But like her storybook character Nathan, she holds out hope that she’ll find a truly traditional oil lamp that could hang outside on her front porch. “Maybe one day in an antique shop....” she muses.

By Anna Levine
Illustrated by Ksenia Topaz
32 pages. Kar-Ben Publishing. $7.95.
Ages 4-8

Jodie’s a young, freckled-faced Israeli girl who dreams of being an archaeologist, a famous archaeologist. Just like her dad. For young readers who don’t know the word "archaeologist," Jodie provides the context. She longs to use big tools, dig and crawl in the dark, and to employ her keen sense of sight to uncover the secrets of the past. But she’s too little, and not strong enough, so her older brothers tease her. When her dad takes her yearnings to heart, Jodie finds herself on the site of an archaeological dig in Modi’in, the biblical site of the Hanukkah story, searching for ancient clues. When the grownups realize they are too big to crawl into the tunnel to search for clues, and are about to give up hope, Jodie offers to be lowered into the tunnel. Putting aside her fear of the dark—and her fear of spiders—she climbs into a special bucket and is lowered into the small tunnel, emerging with an arrowhead that might be from the times of the Maccabbees. Award-winning Israeli children’s author Levine presents readers with a spunky, friendly Israeli girl along with a child’s-eye view of what it means to explore Israel’s historical past. The contemporary story, that does not retell the Hanukkah story, also offers an opening for parents and children to talk about Israel, narrowing the distance between American and Israeli children. Topaz’s realistic and lively illustrations portray the Israeli countryside, an archaeological site and hidden caves and tunnels, along with the tools of the trade—buckets, flashlights, and shovels.

By Steven Kroll
Illustrated by Michelle Shapiro
32 pages. Marshall Cavendish Children's Books. $14.99.
Ages 4-8

Steven Kroll brings his long-standing reputation for fun, frolicking storytelling to a warm-hearted Hanukkah story about a young girl, Rachel and an endearing family of mice who take up residence in her new doll house—Rachel’s present on the first night of Hanukkah. To the delight of the mouse family, each night, as the Silman family lights another candle in the menorah, Rachel adds a new piece of miniature-sized to the doll house. As Rachel sleeps, the mouse family takes up residence enjoying the comforts of the cozy home. But who, they wonder, is setting the table with Hanukkah goodies for the mice to enjoy? Vibrant illustrations by Michelle Shapiro, recipient of the 2007 Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Rebecca’s Journey Home, enliven Kroll’s playful tale. Kroll, a prolific, award-winning author of more than ninety books tells that Hanukkah Mice is his first book about Hanukkah. "I always loved the story, especially the way the miracle of the eight nights is translated into the generosity of gift-giving."