The Ninth Night of Hanukkah

  • Review
By – December 2, 2020

The premise of an extra night of Hanukkah is instant­ly appeal­ing to chil­dren; who wouldn’t want to extend this joy­ous his­tor­i­cal hol­i­day in the midst of win­ter? Eri­ca Perl and Sha­har Kober’s tale of an addi­tion­al Hanukkah night is not a ges­ture towards the mate­r­i­al sat­is­fac­tion of extra presents or more com­fort food, but a mean­ing­ful trib­ute to fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty. With thought­ful words which acknowl­edge children’s needs to cope with dis­ap­point­ment, and with cheer­ful­ly vibrant pic­tures, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah offers a new per­spec­tive on the fes­ti­val. Hanukkah retains its dis­tinct­ly Jew­ish mean­ing, while becom­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty to include others.

Max and Rachel’s fam­i­ly has just moved into a new apart­ment and many of their most impor­tant Hanukkah items seem to be lost. While Mom and Dad are calm and reas­sur­ing, not the type of par­ents to pan­ic at a miss­ing latke pan or even a meno­rah, the chil­dren are wor­ried. As every­one enjoys a piz­za while sit­ting on the floor, Max and Rachel accept their mother’s pre­dic­tion that this sit­u­a­tion is only tem­po­rary, but the expres­sions on their faces reflect con­cern. For­tu­nate­ly, a pos­i­tive atti­tude is part of their DNA; as their par­ents both offer help­ful sug­ges­tions and take the children’s input seri­ous­ly, Max and Rachel dis­play their resource­ful natures. A home­made meno­rah is a good start, but their deci­sion to involve their new neigh­bors is even bet­ter. Perl intro­duces a warm­ly accept­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al and multi­gen­er­a­tional cast of char­ac­ters in a nat­ur­al and unob­tru­sive way. These are kind and help­ful peo­ple who show gen­uine con­cern for their new neigh­bors’ com­pro­mised cel­e­bra­tion. Mrs. Mendez, Dr. Lee, Mr. Patel, and the Wat­son twins’ mom all come up with pret­ty good sub­sti­tutes for every­thing from jel­ly donuts to can­dles. Even the red-beard­ed hip­ster super­in­ten­dent makes a con­tri­bu­tion. The children’s reac­tions com­prise a real­is­tic range, from mild dis­ap­point­ment to enthusiasm.

Kober designs peo­ple with sim­ple but expres­sive fea­tures. Each scene is care­ful­ly com­posed, with key ele­ments posed against a qui­et­ly min­i­mal­ist back­ground. When Max and Rachel’s moth­er dives head-first into a huge car­ton look­ing for can­dles, only the low­er half of her body is vis­i­ble, her red shoes draw­ing atten­tion to a bal­let-like pose. Much of the back­ground is emp­ty space, with a pair of scis­sors in one cor­ner and an umbrel­la lean­ing against a box in anoth­er. The umbrel­la will reap­pear lat­er as part of a par­tic­u­lar­ly inven­tive drei­del. As Mr. Patel hands Rachel a bag of choco­late chips, his oth­er arm cra­dles an infant whose tiny hand rests against her father’s shirt, draw­ing atten­tion to the par­ent-child rela­tion­ships which are cen­tral to the sto­ry. Touch­es of col­or and fine­ly drawn details sum­mon the reader’s atten­tion in a palette of earth tones: the baby’s pink paci­fi­er, a red flower in a pot, a care­ful­ly fold­ed news­pa­per turned into gift wrap.

Perl’s per­son­al Author’s Note” explains the back­ground of Hanukkah, as well as the ori­gins of her book in her own family’s tra­di­tions. She even thought­ful­ly includes a ges­ture towards Jew­ish diver­si­ty by acknowl­edg­ing that the now stan­dard shamash, and the Yid­dish pro­nun­ci­a­tion, shammes, are vari­ants of the same word. In Perl’s sto­ry, the helper” can­dle, bring­ing light to the oth­ers in the meno­rah, is the core of Hanukkah.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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