One-Minute Book Reviews

December 1, 2007

Eric Kimmel’s ‘Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins’ and Other Good Children’s Books About the Festival of Lights

A Caldecott Honor Book and others by Eric Kimmel that offer more than eight days of fun

By Janice Harayda

For a holiday that Jewish scholars regard as minor, Hanukkah has produced at least one major children’s book and others that shine like a just-polished silver menorah.

The best is the Caldecott Honor Book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (Holiday House, $6.95, paperback, ages 4–8). Eric A. Kimmel’s spirited text finds its inspiration in exploits of Hershel of Ostropol, a quick-witted, itinerant Jewish folk hero who lived Eastern Europe in early 19th century.
In this picture book Hershel must outsmart goblins who haunt an old hilltop synagogue and annually spoil Hanukkah in the valley below though tactics such as blowing out villagers’ candles and throwing their latkes on the floor. He triumphs through an ingenious mix of humor, intelligence and feigned indifference to their powers. (When the king of the goblins tries to intimidate Hershel by asking him if he knows who he is, he quips, “I know you’re not Queen Esther.”) The entertaining text is not flawless: A seam shows where Kimmel seems to have edited out the stories of a few goblins who appeared in longer version.

But Trina Schart Hyman’s pictures have their usual rich, luminous beauty – like that of fine stained glass windows – and lift Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins into an aptly ethereal realm. Schart Hyman is one of few picture-book artists can make dark tones rest as lightly on their pages as Tomi Ungerer’s did his great Moon Man.

Kimmel www.ericakimmel.com has also written at least a half dozen other widely respected picture books about Hannukah. One that’s out-of-print but worth tracking down at a library or elsewhere is The Magic Dreidels (Holiday House, $6.95 paperback, ages 4–8), illustrated by Katya Krenina, the engaging story of a boy named Jacob who encounters a goblin who gives him several magic dreidels, the four-sided tops that children spin during Hanukkah.

A picture book that is in print Kimmel’s The Chanukkah Guest (Holiday House, $6.95 paperback, ages 4–8), a folk-tale–like story of an old woman with failing vision who lives on the edge of a forest and serves her Hanukkah latkes to a bear she mistakes for her rabbi. First published in Cricket, The Chanukkah Guest www.holidayhouse.com isn’t in the same league with Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins or even The Magic Dreidels. But it tells an amusing story about a friendly bear that’s likely to appeal to 4- and 5-year-olds who enjoy tales such Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood. Another picture book that remains in print is Kimmel’s turn-of-the-century tale, When Mindy Saved Hannukah (Scholastic, $5.99, paperback, ages 4-8). I haven’t seen it, but you can find reviews on Amazon www.amazon.com that give a good sense of its story.

Kimmel’s holiday offering for older children is A Hanukkah Treasury (Holt, $20, ages 9-12), illustrated by Emily Lister, a collection of songs, poems, recipes and more. I haven’t seen this one, either, but admired his book about Passover, Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion Scholastic, $18.95, ages 9-12) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/24/. That beautifully produced anthology, though recommended by its publisher for school-age children, had some material that would appeal to preschoolers, too.

If you can’t find these books, ask a bookseller or children’s librarian to show you other books by its author, about Hannukah or another subject. Kimmel has been writing for decades and enjoys a well-earned popularity. While the appeal of many Hannukah books won’t outlast the holiday, Kimmel’s stories are seasonless.

Reviews new or classic children’s books appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reivews. You can read other reviews of children’s books by clicking on the “Children’s Books” category below the “Top Posts” list at right. Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who spent 11 years as the book editor of a large daily newspaper.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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