One-Minute Book Reviews

December 12, 2008

A Good Hanukkah Poem for Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:50 pm
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Good Christmas poems are easy to find (starting with the standard-bearer, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which is out of copyright and readily available for free on sites like Bartleby www.bartleby.com/248/27.html). But good Hanukkah poems are harder to track down. One of the best I’ve found for children of varied ages — from preschoolers through about 8th grade — is Aileen Fisher’s “Light the Festive Candles,” which appears in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House, 248 pp., $22.99), selected by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated Arnold Lobel. Fisher explains how and why Jews light the menorah in the poem, which begins: “Light the first of eight tonight — / The farthest candle to the right.” The poem has the strong rhymes, clear language and relatively short lines that children ages 9 and under typically prefer.

“Light the Festive Candles” also has aspects that may appeal to older children. The poem is a Hanukkah sonnet that has 15 lines instead of the usual 14 and an aa bb cc dd ee ff ggg rhyme scheme (instead of, for example, the Shakespearean abab cdcd efef gg). Fisher arranges the lines into 6 couplets and a tercet, a variation on the form known as the couplet sonnet. And she uses the traditional iambic meter only in later lines, such as “The Festival of Lights – well-named.” Sonnet-form variations like these, once taboo, have become common. And adolescents who have learned about sonnets in school might like to compare “Light the Festive Candles” to others such as Robert Frost’s couplet sonnet, “Into My Own.”

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children has more than 500 new and classic poems for children, including the full text of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and other good Christmas poems. First published 25 years ago, this is one of the best all-around poetry collections for children that is widely available in stores and from online booksellers I picked up a copy last week in the children’s-poetry section of a large Barnes & Noble. If you’re looking for a good collection for young children, go thou and do likewise.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 5, 2007

More Good Books About Hannukah and Other Jewish Holidays

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:23 pm
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Kar-Ben publishes children’s books about Judaism that aren’t carbon copies

All About Hanukkah. By Judyth Saypol Groner and Madeline Wikler. Illustrations by Kinny Kreiswirth. Kar-Ben Copies/Lerner, 32 pp., $5.95 Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Thirty-two years ago, Judye Saypol and Madeline Wikler started Kar-Ben Copies to publish a children’s Passover haggadah they had created. That seder companion sold more than two million copies and became the firstof 150 or so titles for Jewish children — from board books to young adult novels — published by their company (named, they say, for their children Karen and Ben).

One of the most popular Kar-Ben titles is All About Hanukkah (part of an “All About Series” that on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Passover). Illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer, the first edition of All About Hanukkah had admirably clear writing, modest packaging and comprehensive back-of-the-book material – recipes for doughnuts and potato pancakes, dreidel-game variations, English and Hebrew texts and transliterations of Hanukkah blessings (with a musical score) and more.

I haven’t seen the second edition, which has new illustrations by Kinny Kreiswirth, shown above. But School Library Journal says: “Of particular interest is the presentation of the familiar ‘miracle’ of Hanukkah as a legend, distinctly separate from the historical account of the Jews’ rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This edition is accompanied by a read-along recording of the Hanukkah story and a selection of holiday blessings and songs.” The Association of Jewish Libraries recommended All About Hanukkah “not only for students beginning to learn about the holidays, but also for teachers and parents to use as guidelines for teaching children who have not yet been exposed to the holidays in depth.” Kar-Ben is giving a free All About Hanukkah cassette to anyone who buy another book on its Web site www.karben.com on a while-supplies-last basis.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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

November 30, 2007

Good Children’s Books About Hanukkah — Coming This Weekend to One-Minute Book Reviews

Looking for Hanukkah stories that young children may want to hear on every night of the holiday that begins at sundown on Dec. 4? This weekend One-Minute Book Reviews will review picture books about Hanukkah, including the Caldecott Honor Book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, shown here, which has a text by Eric Kimmel and pictures by Trina Schart Hyman. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these reviews or the holiday gift-book guide that will appear in early December.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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