Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, signs of Christmas are everywhere. It's enough to make some Jewish children ask why they don't have a tree with blinking lights, or why the jolly red fellow doesn't park his gift-filled sleigh on their rooftops.
For parents, there are plenty of books that will help children feel right at home when Hanukkah arrives. Seeing children spinning the dreidel and lighting the menorah just as they do should bring comfort to kids feeling out of place.
And there are some really great stories based on Hanukkah, too - some serious, some silly, some modern, others from times long ago in faraway places. There's the dreidel that won't stop spinning, a frying pan that keeps cooking latkes, a mysterious Hanukkah moon and a latke that screams and screams until he exists no more.
Here is a sampling of some new and recent Hanukkah books to help with Christmas envy. Happy reading and happy Hanukkah.
BABIES TO TODDLERS
- While babies and most toddlers are too young to really play dreidel, the youngest readers will enjoy helping Baby find a dreidel in Karen Katz's "Where is Baby's Dreidel? A Lift-the-Flap Book" (Little Simon, 2007, $6.99). Like all of Katz's board books, this one has bright colors and bold patterns as we follow Baby on the hunt through the house for the four-sided top. Along the way, we see the symbols of Hanukkah - a menorah, latkes, candles and of course, a gift.
- "My first Hanukkah board book" (DK Preschool, 2005, $5.99) is filled with real-life photos of children celebrating the holiday, lighting candles, acting out the story of Hanukkah and spinning the dreidel. For children ready to learn, there are pages on counting and on the shapes and colors of the holiday. There's even a simple quiz at the end.
- "My First Menorah" by Salina Yoon (Little Simon, 2005, $7.99) is a board book that lets readers light one more candle on the menorah with each turn of the page while learning about the holiday.
- Children who love that cute blue dog from television will love seeing the Blue's Clues friends celebrate the festival of lights in "A Blue's Clues Chanukah" by Jessica Lissy (Scholastic Inc., 2003, $3.99). Blue's friend Orange Kitten invites everyone over for a Hanukkah party, where they make decorations and latkes and play dreidel.
- Another dog familiar to young readers is Biscuit, who celebrates the holiday in "Happy Hanukkah, Biscuit!" by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (HarperFestival, 2002, $6.99).
AGES 4 TO 8
- Four brothers, poor and hungry in their tiny Russian village, don't listen to their big sister and learn an important lesson in Naomi Howland's "Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat: A Chanukah Story" (Clarion Books, 2004, $5.95). The boys' disobedience results in a mountain of latkes and aches in their bellies.
- In "Letter on the Wind" (Boyds Mills Press, 2007, $16.95), the poorest man in a far-off village worries there will not be Hanukkah that year because there is no oil to light the menorah. He asks God for help but is mistaken for a thief by some villagers in Sarah Marwil Lamstein's retelling of a Jewish folktale.
- A little girl who goes to visit her Aunt Luisa, who recently moved from Mexico, and wonders what exactly the Hanukkah Moon her aunt has promised will look like in "Hanukkah Moon." (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2007, $7.95) This book by Deborah da Costa celebrates the new moon (luna nueva) that always appears during Hanukkah.
- Lemony Snicket weighs in with "The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming" (McSweeney's Books, 2007, $9.95). The poor latke, screaming in hot oil, leaps out of the pan and into a world where he is misunderstood as Christmas reigns supreme. In the end, the latke meets a nice Jewish family who appreciates - and eats - the round, screaming Hanukkah hero.
- The members of the Knoodle family misinterpret their rabbi's advice on gift-giving in Barbara Diamond Goldin's "The Best Hanukkah Ever" (Marshall Cavendish Corp., 2007, $16.99), and all the family members buy something they - and not their recipients - would like. With the rabbi's help, they untangle their mess.
-"On the First Night of Chanukah" by Cecily Kaiser (Scholastic Inc., 2007, $3.99) shows a smiling Jewish family (men and boys in yarmulkes, a dog named Kugel, mezuzah on the doorpost) singing about the holiday to the tune of the traditional Christmas song about 12 days.