There is no shortage of illustrated children’s books for Hanukkah. Every now and then one rises above the crowd because of its creative approach, distinctive humor, or all-around charm. Such a book is The Eight Knights of Hanukkah—with its quirky and loveable male and female multicultural knights, their lady mother, and — of course — a dastardly dragon determined to derail the holiday celebration. The knights are charged with a valiant quest. They are asked to right the world’s wrongs in time for the feast to be held on the last night of Hanukkah at which all the candles will be lit.
Lady Sadie has sent her eight knightly children on a mission — to ride out into the world on their trusty steeds and perform deeds of “awesome kindness and stupendous bravery,” including the taming of the fearsome dragon who is threatening the joy of the upcoming Hanukkah party.
Sir Alex’s mission is to craft a new dreidel for a boy whose own dreidel has been scorched by the dragon’s flames. Sir Gabriel rescues a damsel distressed by an enormous pile of potatoes needing to be peeled and fried into latkes. (A helpful knight with a potato peeler is a wondrous sight, indeed!) Other successful knightly quests include picking apples for applesauce before the dragon’s breath turns them into baked apples while still on the tree, delivery of chicken soup to the sick, visiting the lonely, polishing the castle until it sparkles, and baking a batch of yummy, sticky sufganiyot to replace those which have been gobbled up by the hungry dragon. Sir Isabella and Sir Ruglelach find their mission the most challenging of all. Catching a dreadful dragon is no easy task, even for brave and dauntless knights. The dreaded dragon, though, when finally found, turns out not to be so fearsome after all. It’s just a baby dragon named Rosie who, with the help of her flaming breath, helps light the Hanukkah candles and participates in the celebration, highlighting the shining values of kindness and caring which are at the heart of this endearing tale.
The illustrations reflect and enhance the story’s intrinsic humor. The illustrator, using subtle, rich colors depicts the knights, the townsfolk, and the animals with friendly, expressive faces which reflect their goodness and their desire to make the world a better place for all. Small touches such as an apron sporting the phrase Kisseth the Cook, a horse carrying the dreidel’s letter shin in its teeth (shin is the Hebrew word for tooth), and a winsome little dragon evoke smiles at every turn of the page.
This highly recommended book includes an afterword detailing the history of Hanukkah, some of its major traditions, and, in the spirit of the story, a cleverly worded reminder to would-be young knights to remember to “find deeds of awesome kindness” in the kingdoms of their own.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.