Five Little Dreidels (Jeffrey Burton)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Five Little Dreidels, written by Jeffrey Burton and illustrated by Juliana Motzko, a lyrical board book that puts a Hanukkah spin (the only pun in this review, I promise) on the classic “Five Little Monkeys” tune.

As five brightly-colored dreidels are spinning and playing, each one faces a slight mishap that puts a stop to the fun, like getting dizzy, tripping, falling down, etc. Mama Dreidel is sure to notify Doctor Dreidel, who advises against further spinning, but these little dreidels cannot be contained. At last, only one dreidel has won the pile of chocolate gelt, but is feeling a bit lonesome… until their dreidel friends return to play.

Festive, but just fine. There’s an equal mix of what works and what doesn’t here – the colorful illustrations, for instance, are a delight, while the bungling, clumsy rhythm and meter are a chore to read aloud. Motzko’s artwork is truly the highlight, featuring accurate Hebrew letters on the dreidels as well as plenty of visual nods to the Hanukkah holiday, like latkes and a menorah. It’s just a shame the text adds so little; the song doesn’t work, and the lyrics don’t provide much in the way of information or plot. The length is fine for a quick storytime, but JJ and I were both pretty unimpressed. Overall, this could be a fun gift for VERY small bookworms, but with a plethora of other – and better – books about dreidel available, I’d give this one a pass.

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to the Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (Eric Kimmel)

Hello friends, and happy first night of Hanukkah! In honor of the occasion, our book today is the special 25th Anniversary edition of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, written by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.

Traveling through the frigid snow on the first night of Hanukkah, Hershel of Ostropol is surprised to come upon a town that is dark and silent; no merriment from its citizens, no scent of potato latkes, and no candles blazing in the menorahs. The townspeople explain that they are under a curse by goblins, who hate Hanukkah and destroy any signs of it on sight. Hershel takes it upon himself to break the curse, volunteering to go to the town’s deserted synagogue and battle the goblins each night – with his wits and courage, rather than his brawn – to restore the town’s right to celebrate. Can he defeat the goblins, including the terrifying Goblin King?

Entertaining and enduring. Kimmel’s tale of one man outwitting a band of hateful creatures who would destroy the traditions of the Jewish faith is timeless and, considering recent events, timely as well. Hershel’s trials against the goblins are as exciting as they are funny, and young readers will root for the hero’s victory. Hyman’s art is beautifully detailed and atmospheric, and her character design, especially for the formidable and mysterious goblin king, is stunning (this edition included a fold-out poster of the goblin king’s arrival, and it’s a wonderful bonus). The length and subject matter are best for older elementary kiddos, but JJ was riveted and cheered for each of Hershel’s victories. At a time when Judaism is under attack, this empowering contemporary Jewish fable feels like a perfect read to celebrate the Hanukkah season. Overall, we loved it – Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Queen Of The Hanukkah Dosas (Pamela Ehrenberg)

Hello, friends! Our review today is the festive and fun Queen Of The Hanukkah Dosas, written by Pamela Ehrenberg and illustrated by Anjan Sarkar.

A young boy is concerned about his family’s tradition. See, every year, his mixed-race family blends their traditions together, making Indian dosas to celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. But this year, he is worried that his toddler-aged sister Sadie, who has recently taken up a major interesting in climbing, will ruin everything. He voices his concerns to his mom, his dad, his Amma-Amma, but no one seems to take it too seriously. Then just as the boy predicted, Sadie creates a ruckus at the Indian market by climbing a tower of caned coconut milk. Thinking quickly, the boy makes up a ditty to the tune of the Dreidel Song: “I had a little dosa, I made it out of dal”. This delights Sadie, and she agrees to come down. Again and again, as the family makes the dosas together over the next two days, the boy uses his special song to help keep Sadie away from the dosas and out of harm’s way. That is until the whole family accidentally get locked out of the house – with the dosas still cooking! Suddenly, Sadie’s climbing may be their only hope – and the boy’s song be the best chance of helping.

Adorable. A wonderfully unique story and characters, an entertaining and engaging plot, and a lovely depiction of two cultures coming together with one family. The art is colorful, with friendly-faces characters yet fine attention to detail where the cooking and Hanukkah celebrations are concerned. There’s even recipes for dosas and sambar in the back. The length is perfect, JJ and I loved it, and we definitely recommend it. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

The Great Latke Cook Off (Lauren Muskovitz Ranalli)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Great Latke Cook Off, written by Lauren Muskovitz Ranalli and illustrated by Emily Siwek, a story about Chanukah latkes and family traditions.

On the first night of Chanukah, a boy asks his Grandma when she will be making her traditional potato pancakes, or latkes. She replies that she’ll make them for the eighth and final night, so Dad interjects with an idea: they will have a family competition to see who can come up with the best recipe. Mom excitedly agrees, and though Grandma seems reluctant, she agrees to participate as well. Over the next seven days, Mom and Dad are shown researching recipes, checking their cookware, buying ingredients, and fine-tuning their techniques. Meanwhile, Grandma knows what she’s making: the same recipe passed down from her own Grandmother to her mother, then to her. The night of the big Cook Off, the three chefs prepare their latkes to be judged by Grandpa and the boy, who has hand-made a blue ribbon for the top competitor. Who will win: Dad’s advanced cooking techniques? Mom’s fancy ingredients? Or Grandma, with a recipe steeped in tradition?

Very sweet. A unique story about family, togetherness, and tradition to celebrate a holiday that is about all three, the book does a great job of creating a fun narrative that is accessible for both followers and non-followers of the Jewish faith. Chanukah and its traditions are not explored much beyond latke ingredients and a menorah icon used to denote the passage of days, so while this may not be the best book to introduce Chanukah, it is a great supplemental. The illustrations are simple, yet retain a winning charm. However, there are some issues with formatting – quotations are often not given a new paragraph, etc. – that can make dialogue confusing to read. Still, the length was fine, JJ enjoyed it, and there’s even a latke recipe in the back. Small stumbles aside, a delicious read. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein (Amanda Peet & Andrea Troyer)

Hello, friends! It’s the second day of our holiday countdown, and also the last night of Hanukkah! To celebrate, we’re reading Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein, written by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer and illustrated by Christine Davenier.

Nobody loves Christmas more than Rachel. The twinkling lights, the beautiful decorations, and especially Santa – Rachel looks forward it each year. She wants to join in the Yuletide traditions too, but there’s just one problem: Rachel’s family is Jewish. Most of the year, she loves being Jewish and practicing her family’s traditions, but at Christmastime, she feels jealous of all the fuss made over a holiday that she’s not allowed to celebrate. This year, Rachel has a plan: if her parents won’t celebrate Christmas, she’ll take her request to Santa himself. Surely he will understand her wish to be part of Christmas?

To be honest, this one was kind of heavy – spoiler: Rachel does not get her Christmas wish – but also refreshingly honest and thought-provoking. With the way Christmas can become over-saturated in the weeks and months before, it’s easy to understand why Rachel would feel left out. It’s a harsh truth, but leads to a great conclusion: Rachel meets with friends of other faiths and cultures who are not celebrating Christmas, and begins to understand that all traditions and holidays are important and special, even if Christmas gets all the attention. It’s also a nice touch that the book leaves little ones with permission to be jealous of that fact – it’s an unfortunate byproduct of our culture, and it’s nice that the story validates their frustration. The illustrations are very cute and well-detailed, yet support a complex story well. The length is fine, and JJ enjoyed it. A fantastic story to help children who might struggle during this time of year, and we really liked it. Baby Bookworm approved!