Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown. Over the next few days, I'll tell you about some of my favorite Hanukkah-themed books, Jewish folk tales, and stories involving Jewish characters.
Out of the "Hanukkah 101" books in our collection, Deborah Heiligman's Celebrate Hanukkah is high on my list. Heiligman takes us through the history of the holiday and the games, decorations, prayers, and food celebrated during the holiday.
As befitting a book published by National Geographic, the photographs are striking, colorful, and an integral part of the book (as opposed to being wallet-sized or scrapbook sized as sometimes seen in lesser nonfiction books). The photographs are truly global; not only do we see pictures of a Los Angeles family making latkes and an Israeli soldier eating a sufganiya (jelly doughnut), but we see a young Peruvian boy at prayer, Indian women lighting Hanukkah candles, Ghanian children playing with dreidels, and an enormous Hanukkiah in the heart of Warsaw, Poland. The reader is addressed by the narrator, who uses the inclusive "we" to tell the reader about Hanukkah.
I particularly like the emphasis on the Maccabees' victory over King Antiochus and the reclaiming of the Temple as the major reason for the celebration, and not on the oil lasting eight days. The miracle of oil lasting for eight days is not the primary reason why Jews celebrate Hanukkah, and it's unfortunate when children's books about Hanukkah focus on this and subsequently deemphasize the Maccabees. Celebrate Hanukkah was written in consultation with Rabbi Shira Stern of Marlboro, NJ, who writes a fantastic afterword (each volume in the Holidays Around the World series is written in consultation with a religious leader or expert on the holiday).