In recent years, publishers have begun to offer more Hanukkah books depicting the diversity of Jewish families. We have a wonderful list of diverse Hanukkah books for you, but first a few facts about the holiday.
- The dates of Hanukkah change each year on the Western calendar, falling in November or December. That’s because Hanukkah takes place 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet on the Jewish calendar, which is lunar instead of solar.
- Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE by the Maccabees, following their victory over the Syrians under Antiochus IV, who had forbade the practice of Judaism.
- There are two miracles associated with Hanukkah: (1) when the Maccabees rededicated the temple, they only had enough oil to light the holy lamp for one day but it lasted for eight days, giving time for more oil to be procured; (2) the small Maccabee army overcoming the greater Syrian forces is also considered a miracle.
- Traditions associated with Hanukkah include lighting the menorah or hanukkiah, eating foods fried in oil (latkes, jelly donuts), giving “gelt” (money – real or chocolate) as a treat to children, and playing dreidel (a spinning top).
- The Hebrew letters on the dreidel (Nun, Gimel, Hay and Shin) stand for “a great miracle happened there” (see miracles mentioned above). In Israel the Shin is replaced with Pe to say “a great miracle happened HERE.”
- A menorah is a candelabrum; a hanukkiah is specifically a nine-branched candelabrum used at Hanukkah. There is one candle (or oil lamp) for each night of the holiday, plus one shamash or “helper candle” that lights the others.
- Because the name of the holiday is transliterated from the Hebrew alphabet, there are many ways to spell it in English: Hanukkah and Chanukah are the most common, but as long as it’s phonetic there’s really no wrong way to spell it.
- Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights (because of the menorah). Interestingly, the Hindu and Sikh holiday of Diwali is also known as the Festival of Lights.
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Hanukkah is a minor wintertime Jewish holiday that has become popular because it offers an alternative to the overwhelming glitz surrounding the Christmas season. For this reason, there are far more Hanukkah books than books for more important Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah or even the weekly Shabbat. This abundance allows for a fair amount of diversity among Hanukkah books.
“Non-diverse” titles would be those that portray white, Ashkenazi (European heritage) Jews celebrating the holiday. Examples include I Have a Little Dreidel by Maxie Baum, The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser, the classic Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel, and Eight Winter Nights by Laura Krauss Melmed. These are excellent stories, but they represent only a segment of the Jewish population. In recent years, publishers have begun to supply more titles that depict Hanukkah celebrations among Sephardic Jews (families from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East), Jews of different races, Jews of varying abilities, and even interfaith families.
Sephardic Jews in Hanukkah Books
Hanukkah Moon by Deborah da Costa – A lovely (and educational) book about Sephardic Hanukkah traditions. A girl shares the holiday with her aunt who has just moved from Mexico to the US and learns about the dreidel piñata and about Rosh Hodesh, a Jewish new moon celebration that Latin American Jews typically celebrate during Hanukkah. (Picture book, K-Grade 4)
Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig – Hanukkah stories and recipes from eight countries (Israel, USA, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Italy, Australia, Poland, and Tunisia). The illustrations feature white Jews but there is diversity in the traditions and the inclusion of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. (Nonfiction, Grades 2-5)
Jewish People of Color in Hanukkah Books
Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels by Deborah Heiligman – Beautiful nonfiction from National Geographic featuring a poetic description of holiday themes and customs accompanied by photos of Jews of various races around the world, including India, Korea, Uganda, Peru, and more. (Nonfiction, Grades 1-4)
Maccabee Jamboree: A Hanukkah Countdown by Cheri Holland – A countdown book in which children (dressed as Maccabees) celebrate the holiday by playing dreidel, making cards, cooking latkes, and so on. The final child left in the countdown is a black boy (there’s also a dark skinned girl with straight black hair), who is then rejoined by the rest for a party. (Picture book, Preschool-grade 2)
The Eight Nights of Chanukah by Leslea Newman – based on the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” this Hanukkah version oddly includes challah and matzoh ball soup (not particularly associated with this holiday) but besides that quibble is a fun romp. Illustrations include dark skinned characters of indeterminate ancestry among the crowd. (Picture book, Preschool-Grade 2)
The Hanukkah Hop! by Erica Silverman – An extended family gathers from near and far to rock out on Hanukkah. The illustrations include a few darker-skinned characters among the more numerous white ones, including one of the musicians. (Picture book, Preschool-Grade 3)
A Turn for Noah by Susan Remick Topek – Noah participates in lots of Hanukkah activities at his Jewish preschool but he’s frustrated that he can’t get the dreidel to spin. Practice makes perfect. DHis classmates include one black boy. (Picture book, Preschool-K)
Disability in Hanukkah Books
Jeremy’s Dreidel by Ellie Gellman – At a dreidel-making workshop, Jeremy makes a dreidel with Braille letters on each side so his blind father can play, and discusses blindness with his friends. Includes instructions for making different kinds of dreidels. (Picture book, K-Grade 4)
Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles by Tami Lehman-Wilzig with Nicole Katzman – A boy feels embarrassed and annoyed by his autistic brother, but his mom cleverly finds a way accommodate Nathan’s outside-the-box thinking and keep everybody happy. (Picture book, Grades 1-4)
Interfaith Hanukkah Books
Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko – Sadie’s family mixes Hanukkah and Christmas traditions by leaving latkes for Santa and putting gelt under the tree. A recipe for cranberry kugel dressing at the back continues the mashup theme. A good choice for readers who celebrate “Chrismukkah.” The various traditions are presented without explanation of their origins. (Picture book, K-Grade 3)
Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise by Karen Fisman – Rachel’s Jewish family visits her Italian Christian grandmother during the December holidays. She leaves her new menorah on the plane but Nonna rescues Hanukkah by creating a homemade menorah out of perfume bottles. Depicts a supportive and loving interfaith family. (Picture book, Preschool-Grade 3)
Light the Lights! A Story about Celebrating Hanukkah & Christmas by Margaret Moormen – A girl celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas in her interfaith family. The whole family participates fully in both celebrations, but the holidays themselves are not intermingled. The parallels of light and sharing and joy are emphasized.(Picture book, K-Grade 3)
BONUS: #Readukkah, a Hanukkah Reading Challenge for All Ages
- Read one Jewish book
- Review it online (include hashtag #Readukkah)
- During Hanukkah, December 6-14, 2015