About the Holiday
Celebrate the history, meaning, and fun of Hanukkah with your family and these books that are funny, moving, and full of kindness. Click on the title to be taken to the full review of each book. There’s a printable word search puzzle to enjoy too!
Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Andy Rowland
Jane Sutton brings humor and meaning to her Hanukkah story that reveals the true nature of the holiday and friendship. With clever gift choices and a sweet plot twist, Sutton’s Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster will have kids giggling and empathizing as Esther’s plans go awry. Her easy-going delivery invites kids along on Esther’s shopping trip and sets up the jokes and final swap in a natural and engaging way. Sutton’s inclusion of Esther’s and her friend’s honest reactions to the gifts encourages discussion of how to choose gifts, how to make up for mistakes, how to graciously accept gifts, and more topics surrounding gift-giving.
Andy Rowland’s purple gorilla Esther is sweetly expressive even as she is a bit oblivious to the needs of her friends and clearly disgruntled when her gifts don’t work out. Kids will love the brightly colored illustrations loaded with details appropriate to Esther’s world, especially the bowls, drawers, and hangers of bananas, banana cookbooks, banana-decorated table cloth and even a banana-shaped teapot in her kitchen. The Jungle Store is a riff on big-box stores with multiple departments where shoppers finding everything from fish for a pelican to a book of Antelope Recipes for a lion to Ele-Wellie boots for an elephant.
Esther’s nighttime neighborhood is likewise beautifully drawn with lush foliage; hanging lanterns; wood, bamboo, and stone homes; and even a waterfall. The window of each friend’s home frames a menorah.
With its humorous take on a common mishap and loveable characters, Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster is a book kids will enjoy no matter what the gift-giving occasion is!
Ages 4 – 7
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761390435
Written by Stephen Krensky | Illustrated by Greg Harlin
Stephen Krensky’s beautiful telling of the Hanukkah story framed by the historical struggles of the American revolutionary soldiers at Valley Forge makes for a poignant tale about the meaning of Hanukkah as well as the power of belief and miracles. Krensky’s evocative storytelling is enriched with sensory details that convey the brutal conditions and seemingly hopeless circumstances faced by both the Israelite and American soldiers. The juxtaposition allows children (those who celebrate Hanukkah as well as those who may be unfamiliar with the holiday) to understand and appreciate the soldiers’ successes against the odds and how the miracle of Hanukkah continues to inspire. Lovely metaphorical descriptions connect the light from the Polish soldier’s Hanukkah candles to the Maccabees and to anyone searching for strength and encouragement. As readers finish the book, they are heartened with the knowledge that light always triumphs.
Greg Harlin’s affecting paintings relay the frozen bleakness of Valley Forge as General Washington gazes down on the makeshift wooden huts, the cold made obvious in the horse’s windswept mane and clouds of breath. As the soldiers huddle around a meager fire and trudge through the snow gripping their tattered cloaks around them, readers can almost feel the icy temperatures. How warm and welcome then is the glow from the candles that attracts General Washington’s attention as the Polish man celebrates Hanukkah quietly on his own. Portraits of the soldier and Washington will captivate kids’ attention and comparing the early images with the final picture of the two together can lead into discussions about trust and equality.
Several finely detailed and impactful illustrations depict the subjugation of the Israelites under Greek rule and the moment when Judah takes up arms against it. Two following page spreads demonstrate the similarities between the sizes of the American and the Israelite troops. Readers will be interested in images of the temple under restoration and its original menorah. The heart of the story is told in the final pages, where the Hanukkiah and Shamash candles glow, dispelling the gloom both in Washington’s mind and outside, as the Polish soldier celebrates Hanukkah.
Newly released in a slightly revised edition from the 2006 original, Hanukkah at Valley Forge, the winner of the 2007 Sydney Taylor Book Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries, is a moving and beautifully conceived and illustrated story for the holiday and any time of the year.
Ages 4 – 8
Apples & Honey Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1681155845
Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles
Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jeffery Ebbeler
David A. Adler’s touching story about a little girl who sees someone in need and generously provides help is a heartening story for Hanukkah and any time of year. Adler’s straightforward storytelling, told from Sara’s first-person point of view, invites young readers to look out the window with her and join her as she saves a cookie for the old man and goes on to provide more food and finally companionship to him. The fact that Mr. Berger is a member of Sara’s synagogue reminds readers that people in need of help of all kinds are part of our community, are part of us. Readers will be charmed by Mr. Berger’s circus past and will learn from him that the gifts we have to share with others do not always need to be monetary to have value.
Jeffery Ebbeler’s enchanting illustrations of the city, complete with an adorably narrow Sol’s Market, take readers into Sara’s world, where she sees examples of people in need and those who have plenty. Sara’s contemplations about Mr. Berger and his plight are shown as she considers the full bowl of fruit on her kitchen table, watches someone ask for two hot dogs at the corner cart, and decides to save her cookie at school while the other kids eat theirs and reach for seconds. These same kids, however, happily give up their snack the next day to fill Sara’s bag for Mr. Berger. Classroom scenes and the image of Sara showering her cookies with sprinkles are familiar for all children celebrating holidays at school and at home. The family’s joyful Hanukkah dinner is doubly fun as Mr. Berger performs tricks that even the cat tries to do.
A moving story for Hanukkah and for sharing the spirit of giving all through the year, Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles is a fantastic addition to all home, school, and public library bookshelves.
Ages 4 – 8
Apples & Honey Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1681155005
Written by Michelle Markel | Illustrated by André Ceolin
Immersed in the special yearning for family and togetherness the holidays bring, Michelle Markel’s touching story glows with kindness and empathy. The growing friendship between Edgar and Chickpea will tug at readers’ hearts just as it does for Edgar, who so hopes to keep the little hamster but also knows there may be someone in the city missing him. As the days pass, and Edgar, alone for Hanukkah, shares his traditions with the hamster, readers also become participants in the holiday. Children will be riveted to the increasing suspense, and the pitch-perfect solution is joyful and satisfying. Realistic dialogue and honestly portrayed emotions provides depth to this moving story.
From the tiny white lights lining main street to the first glimpse of the little hamster to Edgar’s cozy apartment with his menorah in the window, André Ceolin’s richly colored illustrations invite readers into Edgar’s life with his new friend, Chickpea. Chickpea is adorable as it nibbles on salad, poses for pictures, and curls up in its shredded paper bed. Images of Edgar lighting the menorah are luminous, and the Edgar and Chickpea’s smiles will spark happiness in readers’ hearts.
The portrayals of friendship, generosity, empathy, and family make Hanukkah Hamster a poignant story for all children to share not only at the holidays but all year around. The book would make a wonderful gift and much loved addition to home and school libraries.
Ages 4 – 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363995
By Susan S, Novich
Little Badger is excited to celebrate Hanukkah with little ones in this bright board book that shares the traditions of the holiday while inviting kids to count and point out the colors of the candles as Badger places them in the menorah. Each page spread names one of the customs of Hanukkah as Badger and his friend – a bird with a whimsical crest of feathers – participate in the activity then lights a succeeding number of candles from one to eight.
Little Badger is an enthusiastic friend to celebrate with as he and Bird play dreidel, sing songs, make latkes, and read the story of the Maccabees. “Little Badger noshes on chocolate gelt and lights six pink Hanukkah candles” on his way to adding jelly to sufganiyot and saying the blessings over the eight candles in the glowing menorah.
Susan S. Novich’s short, active sentences are perfect for the targeted audience, and give adults the opportunity to explain more about each tradition as they read together. Children will love Novich’s textured paper-cut, collage-style illustrations, which shine with captivating perspectives, movement, and the joy of the holiday. In addition to counting the candles and learning colors, little ones will giggle at Badgers silly slippers, and enthusiastically recognize other familiar household items.
Ages 1 – 4
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2021 | ISBN 978-1728403441
Written by Nancy Krulik | Illustrated by Monique Dong
Reviewed by Heidi Rabinowitz in The Sydney Taylor Shmooze
The exuberant first person voice of a nameless little girl makes the controlled vocabulary come alive in this early reader. The child and her grandparents happily prepare for the holiday, and celebrate when the parents arrive home from work at sundown. Typical Hanukkah activities such as making latkes, reading about the Maccabees, lighting candles, playing dreidel, and eating sufganiyot are woven naturally into the story. Grandma gifts her granddaughter the music box they play with at her house (“Now you can hear our special song anytime you like!”), which pleasantly emphasizes relationships instead of consumerism.
Originally published in 2000 with pictures by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, this new edition has energetic, rounded illustrations by Monique Dong, arranged with plenty of white space to give the eyes of early readers a break. The storyline has also been updated: in this version, both parents work while the grands babysit, and Grandpa cooks the latkes. In addition, we see Grandma using her cell phone to take a photo, a nicely modern touch.
As a typical story of a white Jewish Ashkenazi middle class North American family celebrating Hanukkah, this book hits all the right beats. As an early reader, the authentic and positive Jewish content is extremely welcome.
Ages 4 – 6
Random House, 2021 | ISBN 978-0593375846
Written by Janie Emaus | Illustrated by Bryan Langdo
Janie Emaus’s original story focused on a favorite part of Christmas Eve traditions—Santa’s snack—presents a clever and inclusive way for blended families to celebrate the joys of Hanukkah and Christmas together. Through Anna’s humorous imaginings of Santa trying to eat matza ball soup, kugel, and tzimmes, Emaus offers readers funny rhyming verses with repeated phrasing that kids will love to chime in on, especially “Slurp. Burp. Slop. Spill.” Michael and Anna’s sibling rivalry over the snack is good-natured and shows how this new brother and sister pair are quickly becoming a team. The list of traditional Jewish dishes will excite kids who already love them and entice those who aren’t to try them. Anna’s impressions of the world outside her window on this special night invite readers to embrace both of these meaningful holidays and those who observe them.
In Bryan Langdo’s vibrant and engaging illustrations, Hanukkah and Christmas reside side-by-side, just as Anna and Michael do. A menorah is prominently displayed on the fireplace mantle and Michael spins a dreidel while Christmas lights line the walls and a Christmas tree stands lit and decorated nearby. When the kids take to the cozy kitchen, Anna’s grandmother stands at the stove stirring a large pot of matza ball soup. The banter between Michael and Anna over Santa’s treat ushers in vivid and giggle-inducing images of Santa trying to spoon up splashing soup, dodging flying bowls of kugel, and finally wearing the bowl of stew on his head all while attempting to steer his sleigh. Sketched with a light touch, Langdo’s characters are charming and warm, and Anna and Michael are delightful siblings to carry this story about acceptance and family love.
A fun and inclusive story for Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations and to celebrate the joys of family, Latkes for Santa Claus would make an excellent gift for pre-holiday story times and baking and a charming addition to home, school, and public libraries for any time of the year.
Ages 3 – 6
Sky Pony, Simon & Schuster, 2020 | ISBN 978-1510759886
Written by Erica S. Perl | Illustrated by Shahar Kober
Community, resilience, and children’s creativity infuse every page of Erica S. Perl’s story that’s a wonderful Hanukkah read as well as a story families will want to share all year around. The apartment-house setting and the family’s just-moved-in situation combine to create a charming microcosm of making friends, getting to know new neighbors, and discovering the generosity of strangers. Rachel and Max, creative, close-knit, and accommodating, will captivate kids as they go along on their scavenger hunts for the makings of a homey Hanukkah celebration.
Perl’s substitutions—from birthday candles to French fries to a ukulele will appeal to readers. The repeated phrase “It was nice, but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah” applies to many make-do conditions and will resonate with children. It also provides suspense and a nice counterpoint for when the night does finally fulfill the Hanukkah feeling. Max and Rachel’s “Shamash Night” offers a message of gratitude not only for things but for friendship.
Shahar Kober’s warm-toned illustrations mirror the heartfelt story and the kindness of the diverse group of neighbors as they provide workable solutions to Max and Rachel’s requests. Images of Rachel and Max creating a homemade menorah, dreidel, and wrapping paper may inspire kids to design their own Hanukkah or other holiday decorations and traditional items. Kober’s cartoon-style characters are expressive, demonstrating their disappointment in missing their well-loved Hanukkah things but more so their cheerful acceptance of what the neighbors can provide. Kids will enjoy watching the antics of the family’s cat, who likes to be in the middle of the action, but also is happy to make do with a moving box as a new napping spot.
A heartwarming and joyful Hanukkah story with messages of kindness, generosity, acceptance and a loving sibling relationship, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is highly recommended for all home, school, and public library collections.
Ages 3 – 8 and up
Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454940883
Red and Green and Blue and White
Written by Lee Wind | Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Lee Wind’s retelling of a true story of a girl and then a whole town who stand up to antisemitism and violence makes for a compelling and emotional read aloud that will move young readers and empower them to fight against prejudice, bullying, and injustice wherever they see it. Through his comparisons of Isaac and Teresa’s favorite activities and their pre-holiday preparations, Wind emphasizes the two families’ similarities, reminding readers that while people’s beliefs and celebrations may be different, we all want the same things from our friendships, family, and life in general.
Teresa’s action in support of Isaac may remind many children of their role in creating and displaying signs to thank frontline workers during the not-so-long-ago lockdown, which also demonstrated kids’ natural empathy and desire to connect with their community. Wind’s factual storytelling will captivate readers and echoes the speed with which Teresa’s idea spread to thousands of homes and beyond.
Paul O. Zelinsky uses aerial and angled perspectives as well as evocative two-page spreads that connect Isaac and Teresa and their homes and to invite readers into their similar, yet different holiday preparations. The opening spread of a nighttime look at the block where Isaac lives glows peacefully with red, green, blue, white, and gold lights. Along the outside edge, however, the grey clouds from the title page encroach, a symbolic image of the trouble to come. As kids see Isaac’s and Teresa’s families simultaneously decorating their homes, they will notice how similar the silhouettes are and that a star also features prominently in each holiday.
Midway through the story, Zelinsky’s vibrant, cheerful, and carefree illustrations are interrupted by a dark image of a shadowy, gloved hand hurling a rock at Isaac’s front window. The soft lines used previously turn angled as shards erupt from the shattered glass. With the relighting of the menorah the next night, the vivid colors resume as Teresa and Isaac share their idea at school and it spreads throughout the community until the final spreads depict a town solidly in support of their Jewish neighbors. Special mention must be made of Zelinsky’s use of color as a unifying symbol. The title colors appear often—in Isaac’s thoughts, Teresa’s art, clothing, food, snowbanks, and town buildings. Gold also becomes a universal and hopeful accent, defining school desks, library bookshelves and, in the final spread, outlining rooftops as far as the eye can see. A blue river winds its way through the town toward the horizon, where the sun is just rising, tinging the clouds now high and fair with golden light.
Ages 4 – 7
Levine Querido, 2021 | ISBN 978-1646140879
Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jill Weber
With his exceptional storytelling skills, David A. Adler reveals the history of Hanukkah to children. In simple, yet compelling sentences, Adler clearly depicts the faith of the Jews and the dangers they faced from Antiochus and his army. Children will marvel over the astounding defeat of Antiochus’s soldiers at the hands of the Maccabees and be filled with awe as the Temple is rebuilt and the small amount of oil sustains the flame in the ner tamid for eight days. Children unfamiliar with Hanukkah celebrations will discover the meanings behind the traditional foods, dreidel game, and lighting of the Menorah in clear language full of the pride and emotions Jewish families feel during the holiday.
In her bright acrylic paintings Jill Weber brings to life the story of the Jews and the Maccabees, allowing children to fully experience the environment and perils of the time period. Her patchwork fields tended by farmers and shepherds give way to the majesty of the Temple with its central altar and glowing eternal flame. Weber’s battle scenes are particularly effective in presenting the destruction, fear, and final victory experienced by the Jews. Readers will be cheered by the joy depicted in the faces of the people celebrating the restoration of the Temple and the excitement of families observing Hanukkah today.
A recipe for Latkes as well as instructions on how to play Dreidel follow the text
The Story of Hanukkah is a wonderful introduction to the holiday for children learning their own heritage or for children discovering the traditions of friends, family, and others.
Ages 5 – 8
Holiday House, 2012 | ISBN 978-0823425471 (Paperback) | ISBN 978-0823440320 (Board Book)
Festival of Lights Word Search
Find 20 words related to Hanukkah celebrations in this printable Festival of Lights Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution.
Make Latkes for Santa
With this coloring sheet and puzzle, you can put together a plate of latkes for Santa – or yourself!
Make Latkas for Santa Coloring Page
Kids can add sparkle to their Hanukkah celebrations with this Star of David Ornament craft.