Two updated versions of Chanukah tales were published this year. Both picture books include an animal as one of the main characters. Hanukkah in Alaska focuses on a stubborn moose while Hanukkah Bear showcases an astute bear. I don’t recall reading the original versions so I cannot comment on how the newer publication differs from the original. Regardless, these books are a wonderful addition to the growing collection of Chanukah picture books on the market.
Chanukah Picture Books
Hanukkah in Alaska. By Barbara Brown and Illustrated by Stacey Schuett (2013). An earlier version of this text was published (1998) in the anthology, A Hanukkah Treasury by Eric A. Kimmel.
Barbara uses the voice of a young girl to educate the reader about the day-to-day concerns of living in Alaska during the winter. The engaging and descriptive narrative includes an assortment of facts that helps children understand a climate that is different from theirs. Stacey’s illustrations go hand-in-hand with the text. The reoccurring images of the moose help to move the story along. An array of colors captures the magnificence of the Aurora Borealis. The narrator compares this natural phenomenon to the melted wax from many Chanukah menorah candles.
A moose continually fascinates the girl. It walks freely through the snow-covered streets and meanders in her yard. Sometimes its head got caught in her swing. Using a batch of latkes (potato pancakes that are traditionally eaten during Chanukah), she is able to free the moose and create an incentive for the moose to leave her yard. Sprinkled throughout the text are references to Chanukah. An author’s note provides additional information about Alaska and Chanukah.
Hanukkah Bear. By Eric A. Kimmel and Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (2013) The first version of this story was published in the children’s magazine, Cricket in 1988. Two years later the text appeared in The Chanukkah Guest with illustrations by Giora Carmi.
Eric once again authors a delightful tale that captures children’s imaginations. Children love to read about animals with human characteristics. In this case, a hungry bear is able to mislead an elderly woman, Bubba Brayna. Even though the illustrations show an energetic woman who is busy dusting and sweeping, Bubba Brayna is labeled as a ninety-seven year old who has lost the use of her senses. When there is a knock at the door, she assumes that her invited guest, the local rabbi, has arrived. Instead, a lumbering bear takes part in her Chanukah celebrations. They light the menorah together, play dreidel, and eat many latkes. Bubba Brayna even ties a red scarf around the bear’s neck.
Bubba Brayna realizes her mistake when neighbors stop by after the impostor leaves. The children see the animal’s tracks. The bear’s cleverness outwitted this feeble woman.
Eric includes a traditional recipe for latkes and an author’s note that provides basic information about Chanukah.
Jews whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe have enjoyed latkes for centuries. Now storybook animals are also indulging. This year, Jews and Gentiles should try a sweet potato latke recipe on Thanksgiving. Yes, this is a rare year when both holidays are celebrated on the same day.
Sweet Potato Latkes with Spice Maple Syrup
(From The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking by Miriyam Glazer)
1 pound of sweet potatoes
¼ cup matzo meal
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Cooking oil preferably olive oil
Chopped fresh coriander or mint leaves for garnish
Dairy sour cream or plain yogurt (optional)
1 cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of salt
Pinch of white pepper
Scrub potatoes, then peel and shred finely. Transfer to a wire-mesh strainer and squeeze to remove moisture. Let stand in strainer for 5 minutes.
In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Add sweet potatoes, matzo meal, baking powder, salt and pepper. Let stand 5-10 minutes
In the meantime, prepare sauce. In a small saucepan, combine sauce ingredients, heat over low heat, and keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet and add a ladleful of batter. Flatten gently and fry on both sides until golden brown. Add oil as necessary and fry remaining latkes. Place latkes on a paper-towel lined plate to absorb excess oil. Serve hot with warm sauce.
Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons.
The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, a finalist in 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and a Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.