The festival of light reads

This year's new crop of Hanukka books for children offers festive stories for readers of all ages.

Miracle Jar book 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Miracle Jar book 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
From the playful to heartwarming, this year's new crop of Hanukka books for children offers festive stories for readers of all ages. Some of the most prolific, well-known children's writers such as Steven Kroll and Harriet Ziefert introduce new holiday stories and poetry. Families, educators and librarians looking for books set in Israel for will welcome the addition of Israeli writer Anna Levine's Hanukka story. Jodie's Hanukkah Dig By Anna Levine Illustrated by Ksenia Topaz Kar-Ben 32 pages; $17.95 Ages 5-9 By the end of the first page of Jodie's Hanukkah Dig kids will know the word archeology. By the time they reach the final pages of this upbeat, light-hearted adventure, they will also have a child's-eye view of exploring ancient Israel's history. Jodie, a spunky, freckle-faced Israeli girl imagines traveling to faraway places and digging for historical treasures. She dreams of being an archeologist, just like her dad. She longs to use big tools, dig and crawl in the dark, and use her keen sense of sight to uncover the secrets of the past. But her older brothers (gently) tease that she's too little and not strong enough. A visit with her father to a dig in Modi'in, the site of the Hanukka story, offers Jodie the chance to get in on the act, digging along with others to search for ancient clues. When the grown-ups realize they are too big to crawl into a tunnel to search for more clues, Jodie realizes she has something to offer. Gathering her courage and putting aside all fears of the dark, and even spiders, she climbs into a special bucket and is lowered into the small tunnel, emerging the heroine with an arrowhead that could be from the time of the Maccabees. Topaz's realistic and lively illustrations portray the rolling hills of the Israeli countryside, and place readers right alongside Jodie as she digs and scampers up the tunnel walls. Over her many years living here, Levine tells The Jerusalem Post, she's noticed that when archeologists speak about their latest dig their eyes light up enthusiastically. "I have been on a few digs and it always makes me want to giggle with joy when I'm given a pail, a shovel and a patch of earth. Archeology brings out the child in all of us," she says about the fun of digging in the dirt for the ever-elusive buried treasure. "In Israel, you can actually find one." Levine feels very strongly about portraying Israeli characters in their day-to-day life. "As Israelis we work, play, rejoice, grieve and love as others but often the political realities of our life in Israel overshadows this," she says. "Jodie is like any American child, curious about her world and thrilled with the possibility of discovery." The contemporary story gives parents an opening to talk with their children about Israel through a child-size adventure, narrowing the distance between American and Israeli children. The Hanukkah Mice By Steven Kroll Illustrated by Michelle Shapiro Marshall Cavendish 32 pages; $14.99 Ages 2-5 There's a family of friendly mice living with the Silman family and when Hanukka arrives they don't want to be left out. After lighting the candles on the first night, young Rachel is delighted with the exquisitely carved dollhouse she receives as a gift, with a porch and windows with tiny lace curtains. To the joy of the mouse family, each night, as the Silman family lights another candle in the hanukkia, Rachel adds a new piece of miniature-sized furniture to the dollhouse. As Rachel sleeps, the mouse family takes up residence in the dollhouse, enjoying the comforts of the cozy home. But who, they wonder, is setting the table with latkes and goodies for the mice to enjoy? Steven Kroll, an award-winning author of more than 90 books for children of all ages, brings his long-standing reputation for fun, frolicking storytelling to this warm-hearted story, his first about Hanukka. "I've always loved the story of Hanukka, especially the way the miracle of the eight nights is translated into the generosity of gift-giving," he says. Michelle Shapiro's vibrant and boldly colored illustrations enliven Kroll's playful tale. In one humorous two-page spread, Rachel's whole face can be seen through the tiny dollhouse window, as she steals a glimpse of Mindy and Mitchell mouse having a gleeful pillow fight. Shapiro, recipient of the 2007 Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Rebecca's Journey Home, enlivens Kroll's playful tale. Hanukkah Haiku By Harriet Ziefert Paintings by Karla Gudeon Blue Apple Books 36 pages; $16.95 Ages 4-8 "Three candles tonight. Mommy makes a dreidel spin. Nun, gimel, hey, shin." Harriet Ziefert has composed eight festive haiku, one for each night of Hanukka. Turning the pages of the book is as much of a treat as the three-line poems that capture the sounds, smells and glow of the holiday. There's a large, boldly colored hanukkia on each double-page layout. As the pages are turned, in a variation of a lift-the-flap design, one more brightly colored glowing candle is added. Lively, detailed drawings on the left flap of each page correspond to the haiku, with spinning dreidels, frying latkes and dancing. Hanukka blessings are printed in back, transliterated and in English translation. Families may be inspired to create their own haiku. The Miracle Jar By Audrey Penn Illustrated by Lea Lyon Tanglewood 32 pages; $16.95 Ages 4-8 Audrey Penn, author of The Kissing Hand, takes young readers back to the old country in this heartwarming Hanukka story. Sophie, a sweet, helpful big sister is excited about the arrival of the holiday. But Sophie's mother reveals that the family may need its own miracle to make the frying oil last through the eight days so that they can enjoy traditional Hanukka treats to eat each night. Clever Sophie inspires the family to create its own miracle jar to collect the leftover oil each night. As the family enjoys the special foods from handmade doughnuts to corn fritters to fried potato sticks, the oil is dwindling down to drops. How will Sophie's mother make the oil last? The amazing thing about miracles, Sophie's dad says reassuringly, is "they always show up at the most unexpected times." Illustrations by award-winning artist Lea Lyons bring children into Sophie's cozy home, with the sizzling frying pan, glowing hanukkia and spinning dreidel. You can sense Sophie's delight and worry as the story unfolds. Miracle Jar sheds light on a family that makes its own Hanukka miracle. Nathan's Hanukkah Bargain By Jacqueline Dembar Greene Pelican Books 32 pages; $15.95 Ages 4-8 Nathan is a charming little boy of about 10 who wants to spend his carefully saved five dollars for his own hanukkia. He takes his grandfather shopping to a Judaica store, but it doesn't have what he wants. So begins a journey for the two of them. The story of Hanukka is summarized at the end, using the familiar myth of the cruse of oil. Greene, who lives in Massachusetts, is the author of more than 30 young readers' books. Judith Hierstein, who lives in Arizona, and is a high school graphic and media arts teacher, has illustrated a number of Jewish children's books and provides sweet and colorful illustrations. - Sybil Kaplan