December 2 – Hanukkah Begins

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish “festival of lights” that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. The lighting of the menorah is at the heart of the celebration. On the first night, the first of the eight candles is lit using the shamash, or attendant, candle. Each subsequent night another candle is lit until at the end of the eight days all the candles are lit. The menorah is displayed in the window of homes and synagogues. Special blessings, traditional songs, prayers, oil-based foods, fun games, and gifts are part of this much-anticipated holiday. 

Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster

Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Andy Rowland

 

While enjoying a breakfast of Gorilla Flakes and bananas, Esther viewed her calendar. Time had crept up on her, and she realized with a shock that Hanukkah was only one day away and she hadn’t bought her friends any presents. She hurried out to the Jungle Store and hit the clothing department. There she found a pair of striped and a pair of argyle socks for her friend Sarah. “Then she spotted a bright red turtleneck. ‘I’ll surprise my friend Zack with this,’ she decided.”

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Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

In the sports department Esther spied a jogging suit. It was even on sale—“marked down from $13.00 to only $12.99.” Esther quickly put it in her cart for her friend Josephine. She also discovered a make-your-own jungle gym that would be perfect for Hal, and it wouldn’t even take that long to build. “Just 10 minutes…or 10 days at the most!” the directions on the box said. “In the book department, Esther picked up a paperback called 100 Jokes About Elephants.” The jokes were so funny that she bought it for her pal Oscar. Back home, Esther wrapped her gifts.

The next night “Esther placed two candles in her menorah. She lit the shamash candle and said the special blessing. Then she lit the candle for the first night of Hanukkah and said the other two blessings. She remembered the story of the Maccabees and the little jug of oil that lasted eight days.” Soon it was time for her to deliver her presents.

She was happy to stop first at Sarah’s house. Esther was sure she would love the socks she had gotten her. But when the little monkey opened her gift she burst out laughing and said, “‘These socks are big enough for an elephant!’” but added that the gifts were not the most important part of Hanukkah. Sarah’s gift for Esther was Gorilla-Vanilla perfume, which was the perfect thing to make Esther smell nice.

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Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

Next, Esther headed over to Zack’s house. When the zebra unwrapped the red sweater Esther had chosen for him, he frowned. “‘I never, ever wear red clothing,’” he said, citing “‘that terrible riddle.’” When Zack related the riddle, ending with “an embarrassed zebra,” Esther laughed and agreed that red was probably not the best clothing choice. Zebra’s gift to Esther was membership in the Coconut of the Month Club—a perfect, yummy gift. Esther was beginning to feel bad about the gifts she was giving

At Josephine’s house Esther learned that the jogging suit she had picked for her turtle friend missed the mark, while the princess costume Josephine gave her fulfilled her dream of dressing up like a human. A little later when Oscar the Elephant opened the joke book, he gently told Esther that he thought “the book was in very poor taste” and that “there should be a law against elephant jokes.” Poor “Esther wasn’t laughing anymore. In fact she felt more like crying. ‘I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,’ she said.” She felt even worse when she opened Oscar’s thoughtful cookbook 1001 Ways to Serve Bananas.

With one gift left to deliver, Esther was sure there would be something wrong with it too, and when she reached Hal’s house she discovered what that was. “‘Hyenas can’t climb jungle gyms like monkeys can,’” he told her as he handed her two tickets to The Gorilla Theater. As Esther trudged away, she felt miserable, but at home with a cup of tea she had an idea. She sat down and wrote out invitations for all of her friends to join her on the Eighth Night of Hanukkah. “‘Make sure to bring the gift I gave you!’” she added.

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Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

When her friends arrived, they lit the shamash candle, said the blessings, and sat down to a delicious dinner. Afterward, Esther admitted, “‘I know that my gifts to you were a total disaster, but now you can trade!’” She looked at Sarah. “‘The two pairs of socks I bought you would fit an elephant,’ she said. Sarah smiled and handed the socks to Oscar. Hal’s jungle gym turned out to be just right for Sarah. Zack Zebra was thrilled to get Josephine’s jogging suit, and Hal laughed like the hyena he was at 100 Jokes About Elephants. And that red turtleneck was the exact thing for their turtle friend, Josephine.

After her friends left, Esther thought that her gifts had not been so bad. After all, they brought everyone together for a perfect Hanukkah celebration.

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

Discover more about Jane Sutton and her books as well as book-related activities on her website!

Become wrapped up in this swinging Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster book trailer!

Hanukkah Activity

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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.

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You can find Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 12 – National Day of Encouragement

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was conceived by the Encouragement Foundation at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas as a day to prompt people to perform deliberate acts of encouragement to cheer and inspire others. On September 12, 2007 Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe signed a proclamation for a “State Day of Encouragement.” President George W. Bush later established September 12 a National Day of Encouragement. To celebrate, say a kind word, mail a card, make a call, or send a text to anyone who needs a little more encouragement to complete a goal, deal with a problem, or just to have a good day.

Hanukkah Hamster

Written by Michelle Markel | Illustrated by André Ceolin

 

The city was decorated with twinkling lights for the holidays, and busy shoppers bustled in and out of stores, delivered there by Edgar and his cab. After one shift, Edgar was so tired he took a nap in the back seat. He was awakened when “Ohhhf! Something scrambled onto his chest. Ayyee! Something hairy brushed his face.” Edgar opened one eye to see… a hamster! He picked it up and gazed at its tiny eyes and ears and feet.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Edgar wondered which of his many customers may have lost the little hamster as he called in to the cab company’s lost and found department. Edgar took the little hamster home and shredded some paper to make him a bed. Then he went to his menorah, said the Hanukkah blessing, and lit two candles. All the next day as he drove people in his cab, Edgar wondered if someone had claimed the hamster, but no one did.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That night after lighting three candles, Edgar made a chopped salad dinner for himself and a tiny one for the hamster. As he watched the little animal nibble on a chickpea, Edgar asked, “‘Okay if I call you Chickpea?’” No one had claimed Chickpea the next day either, so Edgar went to the pet store and bought hamster food. At home, he lit four candles and gave Chickpea some food. As Chickpea ate, “Edgar took pictures on his phone and shared them with his family in Israel.”

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On the fifth night of Hanukkah, Edgar made Chickpea “a slide out of a cardboard tube. Chickpea whooshed down. Wheeee! His nose twitched.” As the week of Hanukkah went on, Edgar was fearful that someone might call about their missing hamster. He spent the evenings telling Chickpea about Tel Aviv until the little one fell asleep.

The next day, Edgar took a customer to a neighborhood on the edge of town. There he saw a woman who looked familiar. With her was her son. “Edgar felt a punch in his heart.” But he rolled down the window and asked the boy if he’d lost a hamster. The woman answered that she had bought the hamster for her classroom and thought he had escaped at home. “Edgar showed them pictures on his phone” of Chickpea eating salad, sliding through the tube and drifting off to sleep.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the woman saw Edgar’s menorah in one of the pictures, Edgar told them how he and Chickpea were celebrating Hanukkah together since the rest of his family lived in Israel. When Edgar began to tell them that he could return the hamster tomorrow morning, “the boy touched his mother’s arm, and the two of them exchanged glances.” The woman told Edgar that she thought Chickpea belonged with him. Then she wished him a wonderful holiday. That night, “Edgar said the blessing and lit all the candles on the menorah.” Then, while he enjoyed a doughnut, Chickpea ran and ran on his new wheel.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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.

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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

Discover more about Michelle Markel and her books on her website.

To learn more about André Ceolin, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Day of Encouragement Activity

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Random Acts of Encouragement Cards to Share

 

Today’s a day to spread a little encouragement to friends, neighbors, teachers, and anyone who looks as if they could use some cheering up.

Random Acts of Encouragement Cards 1Random Acts of Encouragement Cards 2

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You can find Hanukkah Hamster at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review