New books: marvelous menorahs, purple gorillas and back to ’64 Berkeley

BOSTON (JTA) — An angst-ridden purple gorilla and a bear mistaken for a rabbi are among the characters who enliven the Hanukkah celebration in new holiday books for children, families and young adults.

Master storyteller author Eric Kimmel adds to his award-winning collection of Hanukkah books with “Hanukkah Bear,” a reimagined rendition of his earlier book, “The Chanukkah Guest.”


Tilda Balsley, the author of many children’s books, including four Jewish-themed “Sesame Street” titles about Grover, Big Bird and friends, brings two new offerings, “Eight is Great” and “ABC Hanukkah Hunt.”

“Thank You For Me!” is perfectly timed for the confluence this year of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving being called Thanksgivukkah.

For young adults, the award-winning writer Ruth Feldman in a coming-of-age novel spins an intricate tale of historical fiction and fantasy set in 1964 Berkeley, Calif., at the dawn of the city’s free speech movement.

One of the books, “With a Mighty Hand,” is not about Hanukkah but will be a treasured gift to add to a family’s bookshelves.

Here are the new titles for Hanukkah:

“Hanukkah Bear”
Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Holiday House ($16.95; eBook available)
Ages 4-8

On the first night of Hanukkah, a hungry bear arrives at Bubbe Brayna’s doorstep lured by the aromas of her frying latkes.  Bubbe thinks the big ol’ bear is the rabbi who is expected later with other villagers to celebrate together.  Kids will delight in the ensuing hilarious case of mistaken identity.

Think of “Hanukkah Bear” as a gift from Eric Kimmel, a skilled storyteller who serves up a scrumptious and endearing Old World Hanukkah tale. Kimmel, the author of the Caldecott honor book “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” tells JTA his original inspiration was a combination of Mr. Magoo cartoons, his favorites growing up, and his grandmother, who loved bears. The bubbe here leaps in the air playing dreidel with the bewildered bear.

Mike Wohnoutka’s cartoon-like illustrations glow in warm browns and golds.

“Eight is Great”
Tilda Balsley, illustrated by Hideko Takahashi
Kar-Ben ($5.95 board book, $4.95 eBook)
Ages 1-4

Simple rhymes and illustrations enliven the colorful toddler board book that plays on the theme of the eight nights of Hanukkah.

“Thank You For Me!”

Rick Recht; illustrated by Ann Koffsky
Jewish World Publishing ($10)
Ages 1-3

The illustrated lullaby, which can be read or sung, encourages young ones to appreciate themselves and all that surrounds them. A free download to Rick Recht’s companion song, “Kobi’s Lullaby,” and a link ( to a coloring page by illustrator Ann Koffsky are included.

“ABC Hanukkah Hunt”
Tilda Balsley; illustrated by Helen Poole
Kar-Ben ($17.95 hardcover; $7.95 paper; $6.95 eBook)
Ages 3-8

A lively rhyming alphabet romp through Hanukkah provides plenty of entertainment for young kids. Each large-format page is filled with cartoon-like illustrations and a simple riddle that can be solved by looking at the pictures of flames on a menorah, a maze to Jerusalem’s Holy Temple and plates full of sugar-coated doughnuts, or sufganiyot.

“Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah”
Jamie Korngold, illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
Kar-Ben ($17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paper, $6.95 eBook)
Ages 2-6

What preschooler won’t relate to young Sadie when her carefully crafted and painted clay menorah shatters into a million pieces? Sadie’s spirits are lifted when she discovers that the shamash helper candle holder did not break.All’s well when Sadie uses the pink-and-blue shamash to light all the household menorahs, starting a new family tradition.

Julie Fortenberry’s colorful illustrations allow kids to tell the story through the expressive and energetic art.

“The Eighth Menorah”
Lauren L. Wohl, illustrated by Laura Hughes
Albert Whitman ($16.99 hardcover)
Ages 4-7

In this delightful story, a young boy named Sam makes a Hanukkah menorah in Hebrew school using a shiny rock he picks at a park outing. But he frets: What will his family do with one more menorah? In phone conversations with his grandmother, Sam confides that he’s keeping a special Hanukkah secret for the family. Their relationship feels authentic and warm. Readers will wonder along with Sam as he tries to figure out the perfect new home for the menorah.

Laura Hughes’ illustrations convey a contemporary, real-world feel. Grandma lives in a condo in an urban high-rise, and there’s a refreshingly diverse group of kids at Hebrew school. Rules for how to play dreidel are included.

“Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster”
Jane Sutton, illustrated by Andy Rowland
Kar-Ben ($17.95 hardcover, $7.95 paperback, $6.95 eBook)
Ages 4-9

Poor Esther: The endearing purple gorilla is looking forward to celebrating Hanukkah with her jungle friends, but all the gifts she selects turn out wrong. Worse, the friends give her the “perfect” Hanukkah gifts. But Esther makes it all right at a Hanukkah party where good friends celebrate together and swap the gifts.

“Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster” is a new favorite book for Barbara Krasner, the author of many children’s stories who is active in the Association of Jewish Libraries. “The illustrations are hysterically funny,” she writes in an email.

For young adults
“The Ninth Day”
Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Ooligan Press ($13.95)
Older teens and up

Hope Friis, the teen protagonist here, has an enviable relationship with her grandfather, who as his health declines gives Hope the gift of a tallit that belonged to her grandmother, Miryam, for whom she is named. The blue threads woven into the tallit call forth a mysterious visitor, Serakh, who beckons Hope on a journey back in time to 11th century Paris, where she is challenged to save the life of a Jewish baby.

The mature material, which includes references to LSD and tragic Jewish history during the Crusades, is not overly dark or depressing. Through curiosity and courage Hope, who has a stutter, finds her own voice as she faces tough, consequential decisions.

The book takes place during the eight days of Hanukkah, which that year fell very close to Thanksgiving, as it does this year.

Great for a gift
“With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah”
Adapted by Amy Ehrlich, paintings by Daniel Nevins
Candlewick ($29.99)
All ages

Readers of any age will savor the beautifully designed “With a Mighty Hand,” Amy Ehrlich’s adaptation of the five books of the Torah with stunning art by Daniel Nevins. Based on the original biblical text, Ehrlich approaches the Torah’s stories as a lyrical narrative. She includes the nuanced details and weaves a story line that brings the characters to life as humans, with strengths and flaws.

Nevins’ illustrations draw from a rich palette of purple, red, brown, blue and ocher. In a full-page illustration of one of Joseph’s dreams, a copper-skinned Joseph stands tall and regal in his multicolored coat looming above the stars and moon. A two-page Torah genealogy, Ehrlich’s introduction and end notes offer readers helpful explanations to supplement the narrative.