I waited until 2011 to start a blog – so I thought I’d wait until Hannukah was officially over to share a couple new discoveries: two children’s books that illuminate this already-bright holiday (especially if you don’t know Antiochus from Atalanta.*)
This year, I have an almost four-year-old who’s caught on to the facts that Santa Claus is easier to say than Judah Maccabee and Christmas lights last even longer than our miraculous menorah candles. So I’ve started to overcompensate, like all good Jewish parents, by making Hannukah a bigger deal than it was ever meant to be.
We decorated our dining room, making “stained glass” pictures with glitter and glue – just like my mother used to do with me and my sisters. (In later years she even introduced “fairy lights” – a.k.a. Christmas lights – around the moldings.)
We went to two Hannukah parties and had one of our own. I made my first brisket:
There were gifts, of course. And we sang the three Hannukah songs we know approximately 80 times.
But perhaps the most exciting part came one night when we attempted to tell Sylvie the Hannukah story.
Once upon a time, in Israel…
We knew that much. We knew there was a bad king (but we called him Ahasuerus – whoops, that’s Purim! – intead of Antiochus) and a brave guy named Judah Maccabee (who later becomes a tyrant but let’s not focus on that now…). There was a ruined temple, and some need for one-day’s worth of oil to last eight nights. (Why? Well. You know. We made something up about them needing to hide in the temple for eight nights, then the bad guys would get tired and go away.)
We were floundering. Then along came two books, to help. First, the aptly titled “The Story of Hanukkah,” (so many ways to spell Chanuka!) by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber:
This is a straightforward account of the real Hannukah story, with bold, beautiful paintings that add depth and energy to the simple prose. Turns out they needed the oil to last eight nights because that’s how long it took to prepare more oil! The only tricky part about reading this with Sylvie was a) we feel a little funny teaching her the ‘good Jews vs. bad other people’ narrative at a point when the world already looks pretty black-and-white to her; and b) when we got to the phrase “House of God,” Sylvie asked, “What’s God?”
So maybe we’re not quite prepared to embrace/explain “The Story of Hanukkah.”
But there’s another, gorgeous book, called “Harvest of Light,” by Allison Ofanansky (with photographs by Eliyahu Alpern), that’s accessible to everyone – from Judaic scholars to goyim:
The cover looks pretty similar at first glance – but look closer, at the white blossoms, and the girl with her hands in a big pile of something… they’re olives! This book tells the story of the olive harvest, in Israel, and how those olives are made into oil – yes, to light the Hannukah candles, but also (yum!) to eat with pita. All through the voice of a young girl who lives with her mother and father among hills of olives.
It’s an inspiring, educational read – great for future farmers, and anyone interested in where their food comes from. Oh yeah, and it’ll make you think about Hannukah in a new way, too.
*Atalanta is a huntress in Greek mythology – but in our family she’s better known as the super awesome feminist princess from Free to Be You and Me – clicking on her link above will take you to the full story.
Look out for my next post, on a very different subject: did you know that Virginia Woolf wrote a children’s book?