The Best of Hanukah: Recommended Books, CDs, and DVDs for Children and Adults
The following books, CDs, and DVDs offer vital historical and spiritual content. Equally important, these are resources for adults and children to use and experience together. The medium is the message: something deep and worthy of exploration is going on. This holiday is about more than just gifts. Each year, we can re-tell the story – and also find new layers, insights, and inspiration.
Below are some of my top picks for adults and children. I have deliberately selected books that are not widely read, in order to offer readers something new.
Amy Muscoplat, a gifted Jewish children’s librarian, agreed to write a guest column for RabbiDebra.com, and she has supplied her top “picks” for children by age. Every title is also a link to Amazon or another bookseller where you can read more reviews and make a purchase.
I welcome your feedback about these resources and your own favorites.
- Rabbi Debra Orenstein
Holidays, History, and Halakhah
by Eliezer Segal is a charming collection of short essays on the major Jewish holidays. Accessible, inviting, and based in serious scholarship, it provides historical perspectives that readers won’t easily find elsewhere.
Emanations: In-Depth Analysis of the Jewish Holidays Through the Prism of Rabbinic Perspective
by Ari D. Kahn. Written by an Orthodox rabbi, these essays explicate traditional texts and explore mystical themes, including, for Hanukah, “Bringing Down the Shechinah [close-dwelling Presence of God, associated with the feminine]” and Her light through Temple and Torah.
The Jewish Values Finder: A Guide to Values in Jewish Children Literature
by Linda Silver, 2008. Though pricey, this guide is a wonderful resource for parents, clergy, and teachers. Categorized by age within each chapter, it includes book summaries. The index allows you to search by holidays and many other topics.
The following two books on Jewish holidays provide wonderful, brief chapters on each holiday and are worth owning and re-reading:
The Tapestry of Jewish Time: A Spiritual Guide to Holidays and Life-Cycle Events by Nina Beth Cardin and Ilene Winn-Lederer.
Seasons of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays by Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow.
To Read With Children:
Crafting Jewish: Fun holiday crafts and party ideas for the whole family
by Rivky Koenig and Jennifer Levy, 2008 . The best-reviewed Jewish crafts book on Amazon, this volume will help you create memories, as well as crafts, decorations, and holiday dishes, with your children. It includes easy, step-by-step directions, photographs, ingredient lists, and basic explanations of why we use certain items or eat certain foods for each holiday.
edited by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Emily Lisker, 1998. This book contains many wonderful short essays, which include historical details about the holiday that few books cover. The lovely illustrations are inviting but the text is dense, so adults will need to read and “translate” the material for younger children (third grade and below). The book also includes songs (some with musical notation) and recipes.
Eight Tales for Eight Nights: Stories for Chanukah
by Peninah Schram, 1990. This collection is most useful for the concept of telling one story each night and for the afterward on “Retrieving Family Stories,” which offers suggestions and starting points for “rekindling” family tales of Hanukah. The stories are generally well-told and brief, with an impressive range of countries and time periods. However, I find an undue emphasis on anti-Semitism and poverty in the lives of the protagonists. You may want to use some of the stories from this collection and choose others from the resources below, to tell one story each night. Consider reserving the eighth night for your own family’s stories of Hanukah.
Two websites enable you to explore award-winning books for Jewish children:
The Association of Jewish Libraries – Sydney Taylor Award page
The National Jewish Book Award – Children’s Literature category
Happy reading! - Rabbi Debra
Amy Muscoplat, Children’s Librarian of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Library’s Slavin Family Children’s Library, suggests the following for children’s reading, viewing, and listening pleasure. She has starred her personal favorites among the Hanukah resources. For further suggestions, or other holidays and Jewish resources, Amy can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recommended by Amy: Hanukah Resources for Children
Board books for infants and toddlers:
Spark reflection and discussion at the time of candle lighting – or anytime.
illustrated by Jannie Ho, 2009.
* What Do You See? On Chanukah
by Bracha Goetz, 2007. Written from an Orthodox perspective, this book includes a variety of pictures and items on each page, plus simple rhyming language.
by David Sokoloff, 2003.
by Camille Kress, 1997.
Chanukah Bugs: A Pop-up Celebration
by David A. Carter, 2002. Not particularly educational about Hanukah, but beloved for its pop-up art and good to use in concert with other books.
by Latifa Berry Kropf, 2004. This book includes pictures of pre-school children engaging in activities and games for Hanukah, suggesting many projects that readers can do with parents and teachers.
HaSufganiya HaMetuka by Shlomo Abas. A popular Hebrew-language book for the holiday.
Early Elementary Books:
Menorah Under the Sea (Hanukkah)
by Esther Susan Heller, 2009. I recommend this book primarily for its beautiful pictures. It’s the story of a marine biologist celebrating Hanukah in Antarctica.
by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Vicki Wehrman, 2009. This book shows people celebrating across the globe.
* The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes
by Linda Glaser, 1997. Written with humor and “relatable” for children in early elementary grades, this story explains the different elements in the Hanukah story.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
by Eric Kimmel, 1985. In this beloved classic. the humorous and brave Hershel of Ostropol tricks eight goblins, using their own pride and greed against them, to save Hanukah for a small town.
by Anna Levine, 2008. Jodie dreams of becoming a famous archeologist. When her father takes her to Modi’in, home of the Maccabees, she saves the day.
* Fantastic Foto Hunt: Chanukah
2007. This “I-Spy” style book for Hanukah engages young children.
Middle Grade Books:
Penina Levine Is a Potato Pancake
by Rebecca O’Connell, 2008. A fun chapter book that explores the life of a contemporary Jewish girl at Hanukah time.
by Jacqueline Dembar Greene, 2009. One of the new, hit books from the American Girl series, Rebecca Rubin.
Hanukah CD's for Children
by Doda Mollie. A favorite of kids and adults, this CD is mostly composed of original songs with a few classics.
Chanukah A Singing Celebration
Classic Hanukah hits from a gifted contemporary cantor.
Shirei Chanukah by Matan Ariel. This all-Hebrew CD includes both traditional and contemporary songs.
by Rabbi Joe Black. The rabbi is also a pied piper who creates wonderful songs for children and adults.
Hanukah DVD's for Children:
follows the experiences of puppets on Hanukah and Passover in the beloved “Bubbe’s boarding house” series.
* Chanukah on Planet Matzah Ball
follows muppet-like characters as they enjoy a Hanukah feast and talk about the holiday.
Lambchop's Chanukah and Passover Surprise
features the sock puppet Lamp Chop and ventriloquist Shari Lewis.
Shalom Sesame: Chanukah Special
The Hanukah story as told by the Israeli Sesame Street characters.
* Miracle Lights, the Chanukah Story by Shazak. From a traditional perspective, this DVD tells the story of the Maccabees, the oil, and the modern celebration.
www.torahtots.com Produced by Reuven Stone and written from a traditional perspective, this website, geared mainly for pre-school to 2nd grade, has a holiday section with coloring pages, games, puzzles, and the story behind the holiday. You can send an online greeting card of play online dreydel at this site.
www.chabad.org supplies links to all the holidays, including Hanukah, with Hanukah how-to’s, Hanukah Kids’ Zone, and Hanukah videos for adults and children.