Whether you light a menorah every year or are new to the Jewish Festival of Lights, you’ll find something to appreciate among this year’s Hanukkah picture book offerings. All three involve combinations of rhyming verse and fine art, as well as new takes on old traditions.
OLD LADY’S AT IT AGAIN
As the title suggests, Caryn Yacowitz’s I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel is a Hanukkah-themed version of the traditional cumulative rhyme about that notorious woman who swallows a series of rather unusual objects. Starting with a dreidel (she mistakes it for a bagel), the old lady of the title eats her way through various items associated with Hanukkah, including a pitcher of oil (“’bout ready to boil”), a pile of gelt (money) and—of course—eight candles. Readers may look forward to learning the old lady’s ultimate fate, but the highlight of the book comes in the 14 classics of Western painting and sculpture spoofed in David Slonim’s illustrations. From an unusual “Mona Lisa” to “The Starry Night” featuring a giant menorah, this fun offering inspires young readers to explore both Hanukkah traditions and the world of art history.
There might be no catchier Hanukkah song than folk music icon Woody Guthrie’s “Honeyky Hanukah.” Honeyky Hanukah combines Guthrie’s festive, sometimes-nonsensical words with bold, silly illustrations by Dave Horowitz, showing a family as they dance, play music and enjoying “latkes and goody things all over town.” Once again readers should keep an eye on the paintings on the wall, which allude to classic works by Marc Chagall and other well-known images. While the song works perfectly as rhyming text, an enclosed CD by the band The Klezmatics lets readers add music to the words and pictures. A note at the back of the book explains how Guthrie’s mother-in-law Aliza Greenblatt inspired him to learn about Judaism and explore Jewish themes in his music.
CELEBRATE ALL YEAR
The final book in this year’s roundup is great for Hanukkah or throughout the year. In Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays, author Lesléa Newman and illustrator Susan Gal take readers through an interracial Jewish family’s year from autumnal Rosh Hashanah to springtime Passover, including a baby naming and the weekly celebration of Shabbat. Each spread includes a rhyming couplet and a detailed charcoal-and-collage drawing in a seasonally appropriate color palette. The words and images evoke the spirit of each important day and show the various objects and settings associated with it. In the back of the book you’ll find longer explanations of each holiday, recipes, craft instructions and ideas for putting Judaism’s commitment to social justice into action. For example, the project for Purim is a noisemaker made from a box of macaroni, for donation to a food pantry after the holiday.
Jill Ratzan reviews for School Library Journal and works as a school librarian at a small independent school in New Jersey.