Hanukkah Lights, Hanukkah Nights – Leslie Kimmelman and John Himmelman, HarperCollins, 1992
It’s not that old, not as old as All-of-a-Kind Family and its sequels, What the Moon Brought, or K’ton Ton, but pre-PJ Library. Leslie Kimmelman has gone on to write many more wonderful books, on both Jewish and non-Jewish themes (link to her website), and John Himmelman has both written and illustrated others, but I am still fond of this one. The recommended ages listed on the dust jacket are three to five, but when I recently found it on my bookshelf I noted that my daughter’s name was written on the inside cover, meaning she had taken it to school, probably for independent reading in first grade.
The text is simple. Each page has two lines in large bold print. It doesn’t rhyme, (although the author’s and illustrator’s names do!), but the second line is repeated throughout the book, with only the number of the Hanukkah night changing. So although it is a perfect picture book to read to a young child, it is also great for beginning readers who are ready to be challenged with words like “blessings,” “brightly,” and “Maccabees.”
An extended family is celebrating Hanukkah in a warm and lovely home. Relatives arrive “from far and wide.” Unrestrained fun ensues, with kids spinning dreidels on the kitchen floor, and others acting out the Maccabees’ rebellion in the yard with colanders and saucepans as helmets. There are kittens everywhere. Guys cook, wearing aprons and flipping latkes with skill. One two-page spread shows two grandmothers, one cooking soup and tasting it, the other seated at the table and sipping it out of a bowl. (Some grandmothers tell you not to do that.) In the bottom-right of every other page is a small brass menorah with an increasing number of pastel candles, which readers can count as they go along. Clothing styles are attractively eclectic. A little girl in a pink dress with a big pink bow tied in the back, sort of like Clara in The Nutcracker. Some of the dads wear white shirts, others striped, and one portly member of the latke squad sports a brightly flowered shirt, red polka dot tie, and frilled apron. Something for everybody.
The book concludes with an informational section, “Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights.” It provides a brief summary of the holiday’s roots and significance, the background for all the eating and revelry. You really cannot go wrong with this joyfully sincere celebration of the Festival of Lights, readily available from secondary sellers through Amazon and other sources.