We thought we’d kick off Eight Nights of Stories series with a Hanukkah classic — but scroll down, there’s plenty more! Click on book images for JBC reviews and links to purchase each book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.
What’s Eight Nights of Stories all about? Read Nat’s explanatory blog post!
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
by Eric Kimmel; Trina Schart Hyman, illus.
On the eve of the first night of Chanukah, legendary jokester Hershel of Ostropol reaches a darkened village where goblins plague the villagers like the Grinch on Whoville. Everyone knows that goblins abhor light and merriment, (just ask Curdie,) but instead of retreating to caves in the mountains, these beastly creatures have settled in the village synagogue and snuffed out Chanukah throughout the town. Ever the unlikely hero, Hershel resolves to stay in the haunted synagogue, celebrating the holiday and outwitting the increasingly fearsome goblins night after night — but can he save Chanukah once and for all?
Prolific children’s author and folklorist Eric Kimmel has written a trove’s worth of delightful Chanukah books for children, but Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is his Caldecott Honor-winning masterpiece. The charm and suspense of this Jewish incarnation of “The Brave Little Tailor” are matched by impeccable illustrations that capture the humor and spookiness of the story all at once, and the tale itself is sure to engage young readers year after year.
Chances are your kids have already read (and loved) Hershel. The magic needn’t stop there. Marilyn Hirsch’s The Rabbi and the Twenty-Nine Witches is a great read for the full moon, any month. This timeless, utterly charming book is actually based on a lesser-known tale from Talmud, in which a cunning rabbi sets out to rid a neighboring cave of “twenty-nine of the meanest, scariest, ugliest, wickedest witches that ever were.” Though undoubtedly a children’s book, The Rabbi and the Twenty-Nine Witches holds enough intrigue and sophistication in the narrative and illustrations to captivate my teenage students whenever I bring this book into class!
Of course, that doesn’t mean that advancing readers should be left rereading the picture books of their youth — nor should they abandon tales of whimsy, either. Janusz Korczak, now remembered primarily as the tragic hero of the Warsaw Ghetto, left a literary legacy of magical stories that were hugely popular throughout Poland from the late 1920s on. Korczak truly understood children and the transitions they face, and wielded his masterful storytelling to help his young readers understand questions of responsibility and empowerment. Thankfully, a couple of his works for readers 10 and up have been translated into English in the last decade, eliciting comparisons to the adventures Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. King Matt the First certainly holds elements of both, plus a hearty dose of Pippi of the South Seas and a dash of The Chronicles of Narnia.
After the kids are asleep…Start reading The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. You’ll thank me for it.
Yes, this is a book I’d recommend any night of the year, but it fits into the continuity of magic and mysticism that flows throughout tonight’s list. The jinn is a creature of fire, which I think nicely reflects the theme of a small flame’s resistance against darkness and evil in Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. But besides all that, you’ll find reading each chapter of The Golem and the Jinni like a present to yourself for every night. Go on, you deserve it!