Holiday Treasure:

A Unique Out-of-Print Hanukkah Book by Newbery and Coretta Scott King Award Winners

Book Reviewed:  The Stone Lamp: Eight Stories of Hanukkah through History – Karen Hesse and Brian Pinkney, Hyperion Books for Children, 2003

This book is out-of-print, but it is well worth buying used.  My family is currently celebrating Hanukkah and we have a number of children’s books acquired over the years.  Each year new ones arrive, many imaginative or quirky, others traditional, some even bland.


The Stone Lamp is a collection of Hanukkah tales written as poetry by Newbery Award winner Karen Hesse.  She is the acclaimed author of Out of the Dust, a free verse narrative work about the struggles of young girl to survive the Great Depression, as well as The Music of Dolphins, which uses an experimental form as a meditation on the nature of language itself.  Brian Pinkney has illustrated, or illustrated and written,  numerous children’s books and has been honored with the Coretta Scott King Award for In the Time of the Drums, as well as with several Coretta Scott King and Caldecott Honors.  The collaboration between these two giants has produced a book about the holiday of Hanukkah that commemorates its different historical contexts with accessible literary language and painterly images.

The book includes accounts of Hanukkah as a response to the terrors of the Crusades, the devastation of Nazi persecution on Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass in Germany, 1938), and the fear and bravery of Holocaust survivors arriving in British Mandate Palestine in 1947.  There is a sad but hopeful account of lighting the Hanukkah menorah after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.  Hesse’s language is haunting and provocative. A young girl in the Jewish ghetto of Venice in 1546 stubbornly remembers freedom even as her brother challenges her memories:

“He laughs softly and says,
Reyna, you are dreaming with your eyes open,
and I am tell him I am not dreaming,
only remembering the time I danced with the girls
in Belgium, arms laced,
our circle of voices rising from the hill of wild strawberries,
the sun warming our hair through our scarves.”


Pinkney chooses a palette of color for each story: red, green, and golden yellow against an apricot background for the scene of quiet resistance against the burning of Jewish books in medieval France.  The text and pictures work symmetrically, never seeming forced.  Eight-year-old Jeremie sits on his father’s lap as “Papa opens his arms like a great book.”  Pinkney’s red-robed father spreads his arms and measures an invisible book with his open hands almost touching the margins of the picture.

If you would like to remind your children about the flexible and persistent ways in which Jews have clung to Hanukkah through history, find this book. If you are not Jewish but would enjoy a sophisticated account of courage and strength, this book is also for you.  Happy Hanukkah.


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