About Today’s Post
I’m happy to be spotlighting four books for Hanukkah found on the Holiday Highlights Fall 2021 list created by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL). Overseen by Heidi Rabinowitz – Library Director, Feldman Children’s Library at Congregation B’nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida and Host of The Book of Life: A Podcast About Jewish Kidlit (Mostly) – the Holiday Highlights committee selects titles that “exemplify the highest standards of authentic Jewish representation and holiday spirit in both writing and illustration. A committee of expert judges recommends these books for use by families, in schools, and in libraries. AJL hopes that the publishing world will look to the quality of these examples when creating new children’s books about Jewish holidays.” Read the Fall 2021 Holiday Highlights List here.
I’m also thrilled to share Heidi’s review of Is It Hanukkah Yet? that originally appeared on The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, another project of the Association of Jewish Libraries. You can find the link to Heidi’s review and more information about The Shmooze with her review below.
Red and Green and Blue and White
Written by Lee Wind | Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
On a block where every house was decorated in red and green for Christmas, “one house shone Blue and White” for Hanukkah. At Isaac’s house, he had helped his family decorate their window with a garland, a Star of David, and a menorah. Across the street, Isaac’s friend Teresa “helped her family trim their Christmas tree” displayed in the front window. While Isaac liked to write and Teresa liked to draw, they both “loved playing in the snow, counting down to the holidays, and thought you couldn’t have too many sprinkles on a cookie.”
At night Teresa turned on her Christmas tree and “her house glowed Red and Green.” Isaac lit his menorah, and “his house glowed Blue and White.” Later that night when everyone was sleeping, however, someone crept up to Isaac’s house and threw a rock through the front window. Glass flew and the menorah flickered out.
When the police came, they and Isaac’s parents talked for a long time. His dad decided it would be safer for Isaac and his sister to sleep in their room. Isaac’s mother thought maybe they shouldn’t light the menorah again, but Isaac “knew it would be like hiding they were Jewish. That didn’t feel right.”
The next night, Isaac did light the menorah, and his house glowed once more. Watching from across the street, Teresa was glad to see the menorah shine again. She drew a picture of a menorah, added “For Isaac.” And hung it in her front window. “Through the paper, the light shone Blue and White.” Others saw Teresa’s sign and her idea grew and grew and grew. Isaac’s friends joined in. Pictures of menorahs appeared in the windows of the school, the library, and downtown shops. The story even appeared on TV and in newspapers.
In the three weeks from the time Teresa made her sign, more than 10,000 windows glowed with the “true spirit of the holidays—the true meaning of community” as the town celebrated “Christmas tree and Menorah light, / red and green and blue and white / stronger together, shining bright.”
An Author’s Note following the story reveals that the book was inspired by actual events in December 1993 in Billings, Montana and encourages readers to be supporting UPstanders instead of BYstanders when they see injustice or other bad things happening to someone. To learn more about the story behind Red and Green and Blue and White, readers can visit Lee Wind’s website.
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.
A powerful and uplifting true story that every child (and adult) should know, Red and Green and Blue and White is a must for home, school, and library collections.
Ages 4 – 7
Levine Querido, 2021 | ISBN 978-1646140879
Discover more about Lee Wind and his books, visit his website.
To learn more about Paul O. Zelinsky, his books, and his art, visit his website.
You can find Red and Green and Blue and White at these booksellers
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Hanukkah at Valley Forge
Written by Stephen Krensky | Illustrated by Greg Harlin
In the bitter cold, the general looked down from the stony ridge at Valley Forge and worried about his men. They had been at war for more than two years, and now some were without weapons while others lacked coats and shoes. “And nobody had enough to eat. ‘An army of skeletons,’ one witness had called them.” As the general walked passed the soldiers’ huts, he noticed one man light a candle. “The flame flickered for a moment and then grew steady” as the soldier spoke softly. The general went in, startling the man. He was surprised and nervous to see General Washington there.
When General Washington mentioned the cold weather, the soldier agreed, but said it was no colder than his home in Poland. “‘And there not only is the weather cold, the laws are cold as well. If my family were to light a candle tonight, they would have to do it in secret. But that will not stop them, for this is the first night of Hanukkah.” General Washington had never heard of Hanukkah and asked the soldier to tell him more. The soldier began to tell him the history of the holiday beginning when “the people of Israel were ruled by Antiochus, a Greek king…who wanted them to worship…Greek gods.” Washington well understood the desire to be free of foreign rulers.
The soldier continued to tell him about how the High Priest, Mattathais drew his sword and fought against the forbidden actions the Greek soldiers were forcing on the Israelites. While many lives were lost, “Mattathais escaped, and he and his five sons, the Maccabees, became the leaders of a rebellion.” It seemed that this small band was no match for the much bigger army. Washington knew this feeling too as declaring Independence from England was not the same as getting it. “‘We too have a cruel enemy who leaves us only with the choice of brave resistance or abject submission.’”
The soldier related how Judah inspired his small troops by reminding them that while the Greeks trusted in their weapons, the Israelites “‘trusted in the Almighty God.’” They won that crucial battle and many more, finally defeating them. To celebrate they restored their temple and went to light the menorah. They only had enough oil to last one day, and “‘once lit, the menorah was never supposed to go out.’” They lit it anyway, believing God would lead them to more oil. But there was none to be found. For eight days they searched, and all during that time the menorah stayed lit.
The soldier then told General Washington how he would light one candle each night for eight nights to honor that miracle from long ago. As Washington got ready to leave, he felt inspired by the Maccabees’ success and was heartened to think that “‘miracles may still be possible.’” He left the soldier in a more positive spirit than he’d felt in a long time as the Hanukkah candles glowed late into the night.
An Author’s Note reveals the history of this story that is based on facts and a conversation recorded by the stepdaughter of Michael Hart, a Jewish merchant from Pennsylvania, with whom George Washington dined in 1778. Stephen Krensky also relates that some of General Washington’s dialog in the story was borrowed from his own writings to echo his real voice.
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. The book is a must for school and public library collections and is highly recommended for all home libraries as well.
Ages 4 – 8
Apples & Honey Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1681155845
Discover more about Stephen Krensky and his books on his website.
You can find Hanukkah at Valley Forge at these booksellers
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Is It Hanukkah Yet?
Written by Nancy Krulik | Illustrated by Monique Dong
Reviewed by Heidi Rabinowitz
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
Discover more about Nancy Krulik and her books on her website.
You can find Heidi Rabinowitz’s original review of Is It Hanukkah Yet? as well as many more books for readers from baby to young adult at The Sydney Taylor Shmooze.
You can find Is It Hanukkah Yet? at these booksellers
To support your local independent bookstore, order from
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.
A fun and meaningful way to share the holiday with the youngest readers, Hello, Hanukkah! would make a wonderful gift and is highly recommended for home, preschool, and public library collections.
Ages 1 – 4
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2021 | ISBN 978-1728403441
Discover more about Susan S. Novich, her books, and her art on her website.
For a signed copy of Hello, Hanukkah!, order from Books on the Square in Providence, RI.
You can also find Hello, Hanukkah! at these booksellers
To support your local independent bookstore, order from
Get Ready for Hanukkah Activity
Festival of Lights Word Search
Find 20 words related to Hanukkah celebrations in this printable puzzle!
Picture Book Review