6 Hanukkah Books for Young Readers

Here are 6 books for young readers, from toddlers to teens, about the 8-day festival.

Hanukkah books against a festive tabletop Hanukkah background


Gehl, Laura. The Hanukkah Hunt. illus. by Olga Ivanov & Aleksey Ivanov. 32p. Albert Whitman. Aug. 2022. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780807571750.
PreS-Gr 2–This engaging multicultural Hanukkah story will work best for families already familiar with the holiday. Ruby’s cousin Avital is sad because her mom will be on a business trip during Hanukkah. To cheer her up, Ruby creates a treasure hunt. Each night, she gives Avital a clue, leading her to a different family member’s house and a new gift. When Avital’s dad nixes a kitten as the final gift, Ruby is stuck—until she discovers that Avital’s mom will return the last night, and that becomes the final gift. Avital’s family ultimately gives Ruby the kitten instead. Gehl does a nice job of seeding the story with familiar Hanukkah traditions and foods, without distracting from the plot. The illustrations, which are brightly colored, appear to be digital and have a greeting card feel. They alternate between full-bleed single pages and spreads, with close-ups and spot art. The family includes good representation: Avital is mixed race, with a dark-skinned dad and a redheaded mom, and another cousin mentions his “moms.” Oddly, Ruby only has one parent mentioned, though the penultimate spread shows an unidentified adult of indeterminate gender. Back matter includes information about the history and traditions of Hanukkah, as well as directions for playing with the dreidel. While this won’t work as a Hanukkah primer for the uninitiated, Jewish children will enjoy the embedded traditions, and the plot of the story is engaging. VERDICT A pleasant additional purchase for libraries needing more general Hanukkah books.–Amy Lilien-Harper

 Reynolds, Hannah. Eight Nights of Flirting. 400p. Razorbill. Oct. 2022. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593349755.
Gr 7 Up–In this lush and cozy holiday romance, Reynolds (The Summer of Lost Letters) brings readers to Nantucket and the raucous and loving Barnabel family. Shira Barnabel is looking forward to spending Hanukkah with her extended family in her grandparents' sprawling ­Nantucket home, but then a snowstorm leaves her whole family stranded on the mainland. Instead of a house full of cousins, Shira finds herself lighting the first candle with sworn enemy Tyler Nelson, the boy responsible for her first and only broken heart. Shira decides to turn the situation to her advantage and talks the charming Tyler into giving her lessons in flirting, in the hopes of attracting a new intern in her family business. Reynolds takes readers through the paces of Hanukkah, Christmas, and general winter traditions of a wealthy Nantucket social circle—all perfect set pieces for Tyler to administer lessons in seduction. A mystery involving Shira’s family and an old Nantucket whaling ship brings the two into each other’s orbit more and more often, and the line between flirting lessons and actual flirting becomes blurred. Reynolds’s narration is smart, warm, and full of plenty of well-earned swoony moments. The evolution of Shira and Tyler’s relationship, as well as a subplot about Shira’s grandparents, thoughtfully explore the ways hurt feelings can affect perceptions of and openness to love and affection over time. A companion to the author’s debut novel, this can be read as a stand-alone. VERDICT Absolutely delightful.–Beth McIntyre

Romero, Melanie. J Is for Janucá. illus. by Cassie Gonzales. 32p. Lil’ Libros. Sept. 2022. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781948066426. BL
PreS-Gr 1
–A much-needed, bilingual primer on Hanukkah/Janucá. Each letter primarily represents a featured item that begins with that letter in English and ­Spanish. In the cases where the English and Spanish words don’t start with the same letter, the Spanish version takes precedence. For example, in “C is for Celebración/Celebration,” the ­letter stands for the word in both languages. However, in “E is for Estrella de David/Star of David,” the letter takes its cue from the Spanish. There are times when the connection between the object and its assigned ­letter is a bit of a stretch, such as “Ñ is for año” and “RR is for Tierra.” At the end, “W is for Wisdom,” disrupts the already established pattern, but those missteps won’t deter young readers. Commonly known holiday-related Yiddish words, like gimel and kugle, are present, but so is Sufganiyot, a term that some non-Jewish readers will be encountering for the first time. The colorful, design-heavy art by debut picture book illustrator Gonzales is bright and welcoming. The cheerful pinks, oranges, and teals not usually associated with Hanukkah books make this primer stand out among the usual fare. The same families are featured throughout. Two couples with one child each prepare the feast, light the candles, receive gifts, and play dreidel. They have dark hair and tan skin, hinting at their possible Latinx-Jewish identity, not often represented in children’s books. Sometimes the examples are repetitive; gifts and food are mentioned many times, but the intended audience won’t mind. A straightforward account of the origins of the holiday appends the main text, giving readers a full picture of the historical (and miraculous) event. VERDICT This charming abecedarian on the Festival of Lights fills a gap in Spanish/English bilingual collections.– Shelley M. Diaz

Rubinstein, Elana. A Donut in Time: A Hanukkah Story. 136p. (Saralee Siegel: Bk. 3). Apples & Honey. Oct. 2022. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781681155883.
Gr 2-4 –In this third book in the “Saralee Siegel” series, Saralee discovers a new facet to her superpowered nose. It is Hanukkah at the Siegel House Restaurant, and Saralee is stunned to learn that she is not the only one in her family with a super-nose. Her great-grandmother Gigi, the fierce and independent woman who started the family restaurant, also had a super-nose. When Saralee recreates Gigi’s donut recipe, the smells lead her through a portal and face-to-face with a young Gigi. To Saralee’s surprise, Gigi is embarrassed by her super-nose and isn’t the confident and strong woman Saralee was expecting. She tries to help Gigi become the successful restaurant owner she was meant to be before Saralee’s whole world is changed. The pacing and the text of the story are perfect for readers who are new to chapter books. Jewish culture and the celebration of Hanukkah are woven seamlessly into the story. The black-and-white illustrations that are peppered throughout enhance the story. The text does not define many of the physical characteristics of the characters; within the illustrations all but one minor character are depicted as white. ­VERDICT A sweet story celebrating Jewish culture and sprinkled with a little bit of magic.–V. Lynn Christiansen

Steinberg, D.J. Hanukkah, Here I Come! illus. by Sara Palacios. 32p. (Here I Come!). Grosset & Dunlap. Oct. 2022. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780593094266.
PreS-Gr 2 –This new title in the “Here I Come” series presents the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Like the other books in the series, this one is comprised of short poems, each with its own title and focusing on a different topic about the holiday. The rhymes come easily and are rarely forced, though at times the poems are split awkwardly between pages. Steinberg presents many of the basic elements of the holiday, balancing information for those less familiar, such as the rules of playing dreidel, with humorous commentary from a child’s perspective, like a warning about messy jelly donuts. Snapshots of family life, such as taking disastrous selfies, are mixed in with occasional unnecessary filler, e.g., on wrapping a present for a rabbit. The background of the holiday is over-simplified—“Macca-BAM! Macca-BOOM! The bad guys ran away!”—and could have been omitted altogether, as the holiday itself is more cultural celebration than historical remembrance for many Jewish families. The recognizably delightful style of Palacios (“Marisol McDonald” series, A Song of Frutas) is slightly muted by a seeming attempt to fit in with the nondescript style of other illustrations in the series. Still, ­Palacios presents joyful scenes of many diverse families enjoying various elements of the holiday. VERDICT A paperback with stickers included, this book is likely designed to be given as a gift or part of a home collection. Still, it would make a solid addition to holiday collections seeking to build up their Hanukkah section.–Clara Hendricks

 Stiefel, Chana and Larry Stiefel. Mendel's Hanukkah Mess Up. illus by Daphna Awadish. 32p. Kalaniot. Oct. 2022. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781735087573.
K-Gr 3–It’s nearing Hanukkah, Mendel’s favorite Jewish holiday. But Mendel does not have a great history with celebrating Hanukkah. There’s always something that he messes up, like using a sparkler to light the menorah or making the latkes with a few too many onions. This year the rabbi has asked Mendel to drive the Mitzvah Mobile, spread the word about the party, and share the meaning behind the holiday. Mendel is nervous. It all goes well until the menorah on top of the Mitzvah Mobile hits the overpass. This brings news vans to where Mendel is waiting with his ruined truck. Rather than make another mistake, Mendel uses this opportunity to share the meaning of Hanukkah with all the viewers. Arriving at the holiday party, Mendel is braced for the worst; but Rabbi Klein is not mad at all. He exclaims “You should be proud! We saw you on the news! You told the whole world the story of Hanukkah. And that’s what this holiday is all about—sharing the miracles!” This is a unique Hanukkah story; the text is strongly written with an identity of its own. It has a clear point of view, and readers can easily empathize with Mendel. The writing is paired with fun and childlike art, done with markers, that truly helps tell the story and makes readers feel Mendel’s every emotion. Robust back matter includes information about Hanukkah, songs, a recipe, and more. VERDICT This fun, unique Hanukkah story is one that stands out. A must-purchase for holiday collections.–Sarah West

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