A gift-giving, angst-ridden purple gorilla is among the characters who help enliven Hanukka celebrations in new holiday books for children, families, and young adults. One, With a Mighty Hand, is not about Hanukka but will be a treasured gift to add to a family’s bookshelves.
Tilda Balsley, the author of many children’s books, including four Jewish-themed Sesame Street titles about Grover, Big Bird, and friends, brings two new offerings, Eight is Great and ABC Hanukkah Hunt.
Thank You For Me! is perfectly timed for the confluence this year of Hanukka and Thanksgiving.
For young adults, award-winning writer Ruth Feldman in a coming-of-age novel spins an intricate tale of historical fiction and fantasy set in 1964 Berkeley, Calif., at the dawn of the city’s free speech movement.
Here are the new titles for Hanukka:
Eight is Great, by Tilda Balsley, illustrated by Hideko Takahashi (Kar-Ben). Ages one to four.
Simple rhymes and illustrations enliven the colorful toddler board book that plays on the theme of the eight nights of Hanukka.
Thank You For Me!, by Rick Recht, illustrated by Ann Koffsky (Jewish World Publishing). Ages one to three.
The illustrated lullaby, which can be read or sung, encourages young ones to appreciate themselves and all that surrounds them. A free download to Rick Recht’s companion song, “Kobi’s Lullaby,” and a link to a coloring page by illustrator Koffsky are included.
ABC Hanukkah Hunt, by Tilda Balsley, illustrated by Helen Poole (Kar-Ben). Ages three to eight.
A lively rhyming alphabet romp through Hanukka provides plenty of entertainment for young kids. Each large-format page is filled with cartoon-like illustrations and a simple riddle that can be solved by looking at the pictures of flames on a menora, a maze to Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, and plates full of sugar-coated doughnuts.
Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah, by Jamie Korngold, illustrated by Julie Fortenberry (Kar-Ben). Ages two to six.
What preschooler won’t relate to young Sadie when her carefully crafted and painted clay menora shatters into a million pieces? Sadie’s spirits are lifted when she discovers that the shamash helper candle holder did not break. All’s well when Sadie uses the pink-and-blue shamash to light all the household menoras, starting a new family tradition.
Fortenberry’s colorful illustrations allow kids to tell the story through the expressive and energetic art.
The Eighth Menorah, by Lauren L. Wohl, illustrated by Laura Hughes (Albert Whitman). Ages four to seven.
In this delightful story, a young boy named Sam makes a Hanukka menora in Hebrew school using a shiny rock he picks at a park outing. But he frets: What will his family do with one more menora? In phone conversations with his grandmother, Sam confides that he’s keeping a special Hanukka secret for the family. Their relationship feels authentic and warm. Readers will wonder along with Sam as he tries to figure out the perfect new home for the menora.
Hughes’ illustrations convey a contemporary, real-world feel. Grandma lives in a condo in an urban high-rise, and there’s a refreshingly diverse group of kids at Hebrew school. Rules for how to play dreidel are included.
Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster, by Jane Sutton, illustrated by Andy Rowland (Kar-Ben). Ages four to nine.
Poor Esther: The endearing purple gorilla is looking forward to celebrating Hanukka with her jungle friends, but all the gifts she selects turn out wrong. Worse, the friends give her the “perfect” Hanukka gifts. But Esther makes it all right at a Hanukka party where good friends celebrate together and swap the gifts.
For young adults
The Ninth Day, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman (Ooligan Press). Older teens and up.
Hope Friis, the teen protagonist here, has an enviable relationship with her grandfather, who as his health declines gives Hope the gift of a tallit that belonged to her grandmother, Miryam, for whom she is named. The blue threads woven into the tallit call forth a mysterious visitor, Serakh, who beckons Hope on a journey back in time to 11th century Paris, where she is challenged to save the life of a Jewish baby.
The mature material, which includes references to LSD and tragic Jewish history during the Crusades, is not overly dark or depressing. Through curiosity and courage Hope, who has a stutter, finds her own voice as she faces tough, consequential decisions.
The book takes place during the eight days of Hanukka, which that year fell very close to Thanksgiving, as it does this year.
Great for a gift
With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah, adapted by Amy Ehrlich, paintings by Daniel Nevins (Candlewick). All ages.
Readers of any age will savor the beautifully designed With a Mighty Hand, Ehrlich’s adaptation of the five books of the Torah with stunning art by Daniel Nevins. Based on the original biblical text, Ehrlich approaches the Torah’s stories as a lyrical narrative. She includes the nuanced details and weaves a story line that brings the characters to life as humans, with strengths and flaws.
Nevins’ illustrations draw from a rich palette of purple, red, brown, blue, and ocher. In a full-page illustration of one of Joseph’s dreams, a copper-skinned Joseph stands tall and regal in his multicolored coat looming above the stars and moon. A two-page Torah genealogy, Ehrlich’s introduction and end notes offer readers helpful explanations to supplement the narrative.