This list of Hanukkah books with modern settings is perfect for teaching kids about the ancient holiday.
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What Is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is a very, very old holiday. It commemorates events of the second century BCE, when the Maccabees, a small but intrepid band of Jewish fighters, rebelled against the oppressive rule of the Syrian Greeks who occupied the Land of Israel. Many Hanukkah picture books depict those ancient times as they retell the story of the Maccabees and their rededication of the temple that they rescued from King Antiochus.
The Roots of Hanukkah Traditions
Other Hanukkah books offer a “Fiddler on the Roof” vibe, depicting “the old country” where many Ashkenazi (European) Jewish traditions have their roots. The giving of Hanukkah gelt (Yiddish for “money”) began in 17th century Poland as a year-end tip for community helpers. The potato pancakes known as latkes (Yiddish for “little pancake”) became popular in the mid-1800s in Eastern Europe because potatoes were cheap and easy to grow. These customs are well represented in historical fiction about Hanukkah.
There are lots of great stories about bygone Hanukkah celebrations, from Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley to Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel. However, there’s something to be said for providing mirrors and windows for contemporary Jewish and Gentile children to see Hanukkah celebrated in the present day. We acknowledge our links to the past, but kids also need stories that will help them feel connected to the holiday in a more personal way.
The Importance of Hanukkah
It should be noted that Hanukkah is actually a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, much less important than Rosh Hashanah (the New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) or Shavuot (the commemoration of receiving the Torah). However, the reality of modern life is that Hanukkah’s proximity to Christmas has elevated it into a well-known and popular celebration, giving us many titles from which to choose.
Hanukkah Books With Modern Settings
Here are some Hanukkah books with modern settings, one story for each of the eight nights of the holiday, plus one for the shamash, the helper candle that lights all the other candles on the menorah. These stories incorporate recognizable, relatable contemporary themes into their Hanukkah celebrations.
Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles by David A. Adler addresses economic justice with compassion. Sara sees a poor man scrounging for food, so she leaves him Hanukkah treats. This leads to a blossoming of friendship.
Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown helps readers see that Jews live all over the world, and not just in places like Israel and New York. A young Jewish Alaskan enjoys the aurora borealis, “our very own Hanukkah Festival of Lights” and uses latkes to lure a feisty moose out of her back yard.
Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg introduces us to an East Indian Jewish family that fries Hanukkah dosas (Indian rice and bean pancakes) as an alternative to latkes (European potato pancakes). When the family gets locked out of the house, hijinks ensue.
Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise by Karen Fisman showcases an interfaith family. Rachel’s Italian Christian grandmother Nonna helps her granddaughter celebrate Hanukkah, saving the day when the menorah goes missing.
Jeremy’s Dreidel by Ellie B. Gellman depicts a Hanukkah crafting workshop at the Jewish Community Center. Here Jeremy creates a Braille dreidel (a traditional Hanukkah spinning top) for his blind father.
Menorah Under the Sea by Esther Susan Heller is a nonfiction book. It shows how Jews incorporate their religious identity into other activities. Jewish marine biologist David Ginsburg found a creative way to honor the holiday of Hanukkah using the sea urchins he was studying in Antarctica.
Judah Macabee Goes to the Doctor by Ann D. Koffsky uses the example of the past to address a modern issue. Little Judah wants to be like his hero Judah Maccabee and to protect his baby sister. The doctor explains to the fearful boy that, by getting vaccinated, he is protecting her from germs and keeping her safe.
Harvest of Light by Allison Ofanansky is a nonfiction photo essay showing a family growing and harvesting olives in Israel, both to eat and to press for oil. When Hanukkah comes, they use the oil to light their menorah.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Hanukkah? by Jane Yolen integrates a Jewish celebration into a beloved series about anthropomorphic dinosaurs who learn to behave nicely for their human parents. This kind of inclusion is important, as it helps readers of all backgrounds to see Jews as welcome members of the larger society.
#READUKKAH, A READING CHALLENGE FOR ALL AGES
The Association of Jewish Libraries and The Book of Life/Jewish Kidlit Mavens present the fourth annual reading challenge for readers of all ages, #Readukkah! To participate, just post about any book of Jewish interest on the Facebook event page between December 15-22, 2019, the eight days leading up to Hanukkah—or share a link to your review anywhere online—and use the hashtag #Readukkah to connect with other readers!
By sharing your #Readukkah posts, your participation in this reading challenge helps spread the word about worthwhile titles, bringing them to the attention of more readers and supporting the publication of Jewish books!
Welcome to our fifth annual Hanukkah for Kids blog hop! Be sure to visit all the participating blogs for create ways to share this special time of year with kids. Plus you can find all these and more on our Hanukkah Pinterest board! (And don’t miss last year’s blog hop, 2017, 2016, and 2015!)