Read all of the posts in our Eight Nights of Stories series here.
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket; Lisa Brown, illus.
On a year when Chanukah and Christmas fall nowhere near each other on the calendar — hardly in the same season, really — the challenge of finding contemporary Chanukah stories that don’t in some way confront the Jewish experience of American Yuletide becomes much more strongly defined. Suddenly, it doesn’t make sense to talk about Christmas, however preoccupied we are about it any other year. So why, when we’ve avoided all other tales of holiday encounters, are we featuring “A Christmas Story”? Two reasons, mainly: 1) It isn’t just a Christmas story, or just a Chanukah one, either, and 2) it’s written by Lemony Snicket, and it is a really, really great book.
If you aren’t reading Lemony Snicket with your kids already, you should be. Snicket consistently delivers impossibly well-written, enjoyable literature for children and teens, and The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming undeniably bears his signature. Snicket operates on curiosity, which partly accounts for writing this short “Christmas Story” about a latke — a screaming latke, at that. In his usual brilliance, Snicket succinctly explains the history and customs of Chanukah with the same flourish he administers to unusual vocabulary or phrasing, and no one can wield words like “arrondissement” or “unabated” in children’s literature quite like him. As our potato pancake protagonist attempts to make himself understood to an assortment of Christmas ornaments, it becomes increasingly evident that the book’s message is not only about the Jewish experience of Yuletide culture but, more importantly, about the universal childhood frustration of being misunderstood.
Snicket writes smart books. Period. He trusts in young readers’ appreciation for sophisticated humor and eloquence, and educates with discerning alternation between subtlety and brazenness. Kids love his stories and imbibe his insistence on impeccable diction and grammar without even realizing it: I have several friends who only comprehended how much they’d learned from reading Snicket in their youth when they sat down to their first practice SATs. Abound with winks to the adult audience, The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming promises amusement for readers of any age — but why stop there? Advanced readers will love A Series of Unfortunate Events and Snicket’s newest oncoming series, All the Wrong Questions; he has also published a collection of imaginative books for younger readers—13 Words with illustrations by Maira Kalman is a personal favorite.
Finding Lemony Snicket too childish for young adults? Try his quieter collaboration with Maira Kalman: Why We Broke Up, published under the author’s real name, Daniel Handler. Written as a beautifully illustrated letter ending a teenage relationship, Why We Broke Up focuses on the everyday objects that acquire the bittersweet significance of fraught young love. The unflinching writing is more relevant to your teen’s life than you might realize — and if it isn’t yet, it will be.
After the kids are asleep…
But in keeping with tonight’s theme of humorous Christmas-Chanukah dialogue, give yourself a giggle with Jonathan Safran Foer’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Hanukkah” Op-Ed for The New York Times.