Saturday, December 4, 2010

Children's Book for Hanukkah

Weekly Trip to the Library for Nannies and Au Pairs

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn

This picture book tells the true story of an inspiring event: when windows with Hanukkah menorahs become targets for rock throwers in Billings, Montana in 1993, thousands of non-Jewish people put pictures of menorahs in their windows, dramatically reducing the number of hate crimes in their city. The story itself is so compelling and heartwarming it has its own power. Great for children aged five- to 10-years old.

Confused Hanukkah by Jon Koons

Set in the traditional Jewish town-of-fools, Chelm, the story begins with the villagers unable to remember how to celebrate Hanukkah while their Rabbi is away. A man named Yossel sets out for a nearby town "to find out what must be done," but naturally, being from Chelm, he goes the wrong way and winds up in the Big City, where he gets some very odd information about "the coming holiday." His fellow villagers are a bit surprised--"Trees? Fat men? I don't remember any of that!"--but conclude these must be the latest modern customs, so they proceed to chop down a tree, decorate it with matzo balls, wooden dreidels and shiny menorahs, and dress the fattest man in town in a fancy suit, calling him "Hanukkah Hershel."

Yet somehow, nothing seems right. "They had never seen Hanukkah Hershel before. And surely, if they had decorated a tree like this in the past, someone would have remembered. But Yossel had told them that other people did these things. And why shouldn't they celebrate the way others did? Still, now it seemed like this wasn't Hanukkah at all."

Luckily, just then the Rabbi arrives home, to tell them the story of Hanukkah and remind them of their true traditions. And "From that day forward it was said that the people of Chelm always remembered how to keep Hanukkah."

Koons doesn't hit us in the face with his point, leaving the silliness of the story to speak for itself about the ridiculousness of mixing up two things that have very little relationship to each other. I would like to have seen a note on the history of Chelm in Jewish folklore and humor, and it would also have strengthened the the book to say more about the significance of the Hanukkah customs -- eating foods fried in oil in memory of the oil lamp, for example.

This should go over well at story times, especially with a reader who's good with dialogue, which is lively and plentiful. Pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations in a slightly caricatured style highlight both the foolishness and the generally goodhearted nature of the people of Chelm, adding to the humor and warmth of the story. Story is great for children aged four-years old and up.

Stop by tomorrow for Product Review Sunday and next Saturday for another Weekly Trip to the Library.

No comments: