'Tis the season of holidays, and this year they're coming fast and furious. Hanukkah starts early this year: this Wednesday is the first night of Hanukkah. It's made the usual build-to-a-late-December-crescendo in the toy store a little different this year. Variety. Always good.
I'm a big believer in kids having some understanding of major holidays in our society, even if not all of them are ones celebrated by their families. Lizzie and Mona's private school dealt with the religion question with sequential immersion. There was a big Christmas Assembly, with the first graders doing the Jesus/Mary/Joseph pageant, the headmaster reading The Grinch, and everyone singing a carol or two. And come spring break, they'd have the Passover Assembly, with the kindergartners doing the plagues (ah, those hopping frogs), and Moses and Pharoah with their paper beards confronting each other. The littlest ones got to ask the Four Questions. Holidays from other traditions were discussed, but the Jewish/Christian mix was the big one for their school.
So, here for all of us, are my two favorite Hanukkah picture books:
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by master storyteller Eric Kimmel, wonderfully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman tells the story of a wandering beggar who finds a village which doesn't celebrate Hanukkah because a group of goblins has taken over the synagogue and harasses the populace. Hershel sets out to evict them by spending the eight nights of the holiday in the synagogue. He outsmarts the goblins one by one on each night, managing to keep the candles burning every night. (Lots of potential on the different-voices hamming it up front.) On the last night he must face the dreaded King of the Goblins. A good story.
And then there's
The Chanukkah Guest, also by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Giora Carmi, which does much more than just remind us there are many spellings of Chanukkah. It's set in another village, where 97 year-old Bubba Brayna still makes the best latkes in town. Smells of her cooking awaken a bear. When he arrives at Bubba's house, the very near-sighted, hard-of-hearing old lady mistakes him for the rabbi, feeds him latkes, responds to his growls as though they were conversation, spins the dreidel with him, and sends him off with the scarf she has knitted for the rabbi. There's lots of charming slapstick in these scenes. Then her intended guests -- the rabbi and the villagers -- arrive and figure out what happened, to some worries and a lot of laughter.
May your holiday guests bring you much joy and a few surprises.