Kid on Stack of Books
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A batch of Jewish-themed tomes to delight and teach children. 

Each year before Chanukah, publishers release Jewish-themed books in hopes they will become holiday gifts for children. These new books may become favorites for the youngsters in your life. 

Shield of the Maccabees – A Hanukkah Graphic Novel by Eric A. Kimmel with art by Dov Smiley is historical fiction for children. Award-winning author Kimmel has crafted a story in 129 pages about two boys — one Greek, one Jewish — who learn from one another’s cultures and bridge the gap through friendship. When war comes between the Greeks and the Maccabees, the boys join their separate armies and fight, but re-engage over their common desire for peace. The story ends with the miracle of the destroyed temple’s menorah flames lasting for eight days. Kids ages 10 and up will especially enjoy this fast-paced graphic novel. 

Shield of the Maccabes
Shield of the Maccabees

Larry’s Latkes by Jenna Waldman (illustrated by Ben Whitehouse) features a Chanukah food truck operated by Larry Gator, who whips up Grandma Golda Gator’s top-secret latke recipe. This year, he experiments with other fruits and vegetables with little success until he realizes he must mix them in with grandma’s potato latke recipe for something old and something new. The text rhymes, the illustrations are very cute, and the final latke recipe is worth trying for your family Chanukah celebration.

Larry's Latkes
Larry’s Latkes

Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky is another piece of historical fiction set in a cold December in Valley Forge where General George Washington despairs after surveying his exhausted, hungry and freezing troops after two years at war. When he encounters a Jewish soldier lighting Chanukah candles, he learns the story of a small band of Jewish fighters long ago who miraculously defeated a powerful army — a reminder to Washington that miracles are possible. This book, with painterly illustrations by Greg Harlin, was originally published in 2006, but updated this year. 

Hanukkah at Valley Forge
Hanukkah at Valley Forge

Thank You – Modeh Ani by Rabbi Alyson Solomon (illustrated by Bryony Clarkson) is a book about gratitude for children inspired by Jewish prayers for waking up to a new day. In this delightfully illustrated book, a diverse group of children express gratitude for all parts of their bodies, from the waist that wiggles to the toes that tap. In a note to families about “Modeh Ani” and “Asher Yatzar,” Rabbi Alyson hopes to inspire gratitude for each new day.
From Jewish book publisher Behrman House in New Jersey; all titles available on Amazon.

Thank You – Modeh Ani
Thank You – Modeh Ani

• From revered and award-winning Israeli author/journalist Meir Shalev comes A Snake, A Flood, A Hidden Baby: Bible Stories for Children. Colorful illustrations are by Italian artist Emanuele Luzzati. Shalev gives modern interpretations to six Bible stories: Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Moses in the river, the Tower of Babel, Joseph and his brothers, and the angels who visited Abraham and Sarah. The short, whimsical stories are easy for even young children to understand. 

A Snake, A Flood, A Hidden Baby Bible Stories for Children
A Snake, A Flood, A Hidden Baby Bible Stories for Children

• In My Israel and Me, author Alice Blumenthal McGinty uses verse to show how various people who live in Israel feel about their lives there, from a Jerusalem street cat to Ethiopian immigrants, kibbutzniks, and Bedouin and Arab Israeli families. With each page are facts about each group depicted. Rotem Teplow’s wonderful illustrations give graphic representation to each group, all of whom are shown together on the cover and last pages to show the Israeli mosaic. 

My Israel and Me
My Israel and Me

The Rabbi and the Painter evolved after author Shoshana Weiss heard the rumor of a relationship between Rabbi Leon of Modena (Judah Aryeh) and the Italian painter Jacopo Robusti (Tintoretto), who lived near one another in Venice in the late 1950s. She created this story supposing the rumor was true, although it has never been substantiated. This story, illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham, explores how the unconventional painter creates a masterpiece after seeking advice from the rabbi, who ventures outside the ghetto to explore the secular life around him. 

The Rabbi and the Painter
The Rabbi and the Painter

From Kalaniot, a Jewish imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing in Pennsylvania; all available on Amazon.

PJ Library Resources

Parents and grandparents, if you’re not signed up to receive Jewish children’s books and more from the PJ Library, a nonprofit program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, you are missing a great opportunity. Go to pjlibrary.org.

You not only will receive free books mailed to your home, but also a slew of other Jewish resources, including holiday recipes and craft ideas and two new podcasts: “Afternoons with Mimi” and “Beyond the Bookcase.” Both will feature Chanukah themes during November. 

On the website, also check out the “Hanukkah Hub,” which offers child-friendly versions of the Chanukah story as well as craft ideas, recipes and printables (such as the “8 Nights of Hanukkah”).

A very cute Chanukah story in their stable of books is The Eight Knights of Hanukkah (Holiday House, 2020) by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Galia Bernstein. The knights are asked by their mother on the last night of Chanukah to rid the kingdom of a dastardly dragon so they all can celebrate. The knights, which include women, hunt the dragon and do acts of kindness along the way — feeding soup to the sick, visiting the lonely, peeling potatoes for latkes. They discover the dragon is merely a baby, who ends up joining the holiday celebration. In the PJ Library version, look at the book flaps for suggested ways readers can be of service, too.

The Eight Knights of Hanukkah
The Eight Knights of Hanukkah

Another is Meet the Latkes by Alan Silberberg (Penguin, 2018), a silly telling of the Chanukah story by the grandpa of a family of latkes. He gets it all wrong, including mentioning Mega-Bees instead of Maccabees, but the telling is hilarious. Finally, the family dog, Applesauce, sets the record straight. Again, in the PJ Library version, look at the book flaps for a fun family activity to do with your kiddos. These books can be found on Amazon, too.  

Meet the Latkes
Meet the Latkes
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