When my children were growing up, there were a limited number of Hanukkah books for children. Each year since their youth, a variety of books have been published. This year, Kar Ben Publishing (a division of Lerner Publishing Group) added two notable books to the Hanukkah list- Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue (by Heidi Smith Hyde and illustrated by Jamel Akib) and Maccabee Meals: Food and Fun for Hanukkah (by Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler and illustrated by Ursula Roma).
Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue (by Heidi Smith Hyde and illustrated by Jamel Akib)
I am partial to books that mix culture with historical events. Picture books that fall within the genre of historical fiction are a gem. Thus, I am fascinated by the picture book, Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue. Heidi skillfully places this Hanukkah story in 18th century Massachusetts and uses the precarious situation of secret Jews as part of her plot. Secret Jews is an umbrella term that includes anusim, conversos, and crypto-Jews. All of these words refer to Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity and chose to maintain some level of Jewish identity.
The main character, Emanuel, falls into this category. His family had immigrated to America from Portugal. Prior to leaving Europe, they were living as secret Jews. Even though America was their new home, the family was haunted by their fears. They practiced their Judaism behind closed doors since they did not want anyone to know their true identity.
Emanuel could not understand his father’s concerns nor could he appreciate the dangers associated with being a 18th century whaler. To satisfy his desire to work on a ship, he stowed away on a vessel leaving the harbor and left a note behind for his father. Turbulent weather made him reevaluate what he had done. Meanwhile, Emanuel’s disappearance made his father rethink his attitude toward his Jewish practices.
The storm had destroyed the town’s lighthouse. Without the lighthouse, the badly damaged ship could not return to land. Oil lamps lit by the Jewish families in the town illuminated the ship’s way. Both father and son learned a lesson.
Jamel’s chalk pastel drawings bring the reader back to 18th century America and add to the feelings associated with coastal towns and being aboard a ship.
While this book only touches briefly on Hanukkah traditions, it provides a wonderful way to introduce the topic of religious freedom, both in the time of the Maccabees (time period of the story of Hanukkah) and during and after the Spanish Inquisition. This can also be expanded to include a discussion of our freedoms in America.
- Historical fiction
- Stories with a lesson
- Keeping secrets
- Child/parent relationships
- Secret Jews, anusim, conversos, and marranos
- Spanish Inquisition
- Religious freedom
- People’s rights in America vs. elsewhere
- Basic ideas found in the US Constitution
- Consequences of running away
- Learning lessons from experiences
- Life in 18th century America
- Adjusting to a new country
- Immigrants and their fears
Maccabee Meals: Food and Fun for Hanukkah (Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler and illustrated by Ursula Roma)
This small book is a great resource for parents and possibly teachers who are looking for ways to enhance their Hanukkah celebration with hands-on activities.
- Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler are recipients of the Sidney Taylor Body of Work Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries
- Heidi Smith Hyde is a National Book Award Finalist, winner of Sydney Taylor Notable Children’s Book, and winner of Sugarman Award for Best Jewish Children’s Book
If you’re looking for children’s books for Hanukkah, I would recommend both of these books.
- Can you share a favorite Hanukkah book?
I’d love to hear your honest feedback. Published authors thrive on blog comments, Amazon critiques, Goodreads reviews as well as other online book evaluations