Seven Winter Holiday Books That Are Not About Christmas

The end of the year brings many celebrations in different religions and cultures, and the beauty of the holiday spirit is that it encompasses all of them. Here are seven holiday books beyond Christmas.

The end of the year brings many celebrations in different religions and cultures, and the beauty of the holiday spirit is that it encompasses all of them. Here are seven holiday books beyond Christmas.

Gottesfeld, Jeff. The Christmas Mitzvah. illus. by Michelle Laurentia Agatha. 32p. Creston. Sept. 2021. pap. $18.99. ISBN 9781939547941. 
PreS-Gr 2 –This inspirational cross-cultural story, based on true events, captures the holiday spirit; however, it may appeal more to adults than children. Al Rosen is a ­Jewish man who loves Christmas. One Christmas Eve, he offers to take over a newsstand clerk’s job to allow the clerk to spend Christmas Eve with his family. This act prompts Al to offer to do people’s jobs for Christmas Eve and it inspires others to do the same. On the year Al decides he is too old, many people he has helped come together to celebrate him, inspiring a multicultural lighting of the Chanukah candles. This story has an adult sentiment. Other than mentions of his children and grandchildren, it centers on Al. The inspirational content will appeal to adults and rides the line of cloying. That said, the message is a worthy one and the writing is clear, concise, and accessible. The cartoon-style illustrations are humorous and appealing, depicting a multicultural cast that includes people of all races, as well as those wearing turbans and hijabs. Agatha uses a vibrant color palette that draws the eye and creates effective pacing, with a mix of full-bleed single pages and spreads, as well as some spot art. VERDICT Schools and libraries looking for an inspirational story that goes down easily and will likely appeal to parents and grandparents will find this fits the bill. Buy where budgets allow.–Amy ­Lilien-Harper, Wilton Lib., CT

Novich, Susan S. Hello Hanukkah! illus. by author. 18p. Kar-Ben. Oct. 2021. Board $7.99. ISBN 9781728403441.
Toddler-PreS –This delightful Hanukkah board book combines counting, colors, and a variety of holiday traditions in an inviting package. On each spread, a young badger participates in a Hanukkah tradition, followed by lighting a certain number of candles in a specific color. Badger opens the candles and lights one red candle, plays dreidel and lights two orange candles, etc. For the final eight candles, the badger family says the blessings and fills the menorah with a rainbow of candles, including a white shammash. The story is appropriately simple for a board book audience, but still hits most of the rituals, including making latkes, telling the story, singing songs, and eating gelt. The text is beautifully concise and accessible, but the real star here is the artwork. Done in a layered collage style reminiscent of Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, the renderings look so tactile that children will want to touch them. They are done in bright, appealing colors, with single or two-color backgrounds, and only the items needed for each activity pictured. Toddler’s eyes will be drawn to the numbers, the candles, and Badger and his friend bird. Readers will need to be familiar with the holiday, as there is very little explanation; however, families in search of simple books for toddlers will find this fits the bill. VERDICT This is a perfect Hanukkah package of colors, counting, and traditions. All libraries serving Jewish ­patrons will want to add this little gem to their board book collections.–Amy ­Lilien-Harper, ­Wilton Lib., CT

Kushner, Ellen. The Golden Dreidel. illus. by Kevin Keele. 128p. Charlesbridge. Sept. 2021. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781623541446. 
Gr 2-5 –Sara is celebrating Chanukah with her family when a mysterious relative named Tante Miriam shows up with a special gift: a golden dreidel as big as a book! While everyone else is sleeping, the dreidel turns into a free-spirited girl with golden hair who guides Sara to a magical world through a portal in the television. When Sara arrives in the dreidel girl’s world, she witnesses her new friend being kidnapped by the Demon King and his army. Sara is determined to rescue her, and embarks on a quest to find the dreidel girl. Along the way, Sara meets a cast of characters inspired by Jewish folklore and Hebrew Bible tales, such as The Fool, a peacock, and the Queen of Sheba. While dozens of children’s Chanukah books exist, very few are tailored for chapter book readers. This magical middle grade Chanukah story, a Jewish spin on The Nutcracker, will delight not only fantasy readers, but those who enjoy witty humor and challenging riddles. Non-Jewish readers will also enjoy learning all about the significance and rules of how to play the popular Chanukah game of dreidel. Fans of fantasy classics like Coraline, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Phantom Tollbooth will feel at home with The Golden Dreidel. VERDICT This has a modern appeal and is a worthy holiday purchase for chapter book readers.–Danielle Winter, Brooklyn P.L., NY


A Rugrats Chanukah: The Classic Illustrated Storybook. illus. by Kim Smith. 40p. (Pop Classics: Bk. 11). Quirk. Sept. 2021. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781683692867. 
PreS-Gr 2 –Babies Tommy, Phil, Lil, and Chuckie are bewildered: Tommy’s mom is making pancakes at night, Grandma Minka is reading to the babies all about the “Maccababies,” Grandpa Boris is giving out chocolate money, the candles are burning, and Tommy is getting gifts. Is it Tommy’s birthday? No, it’s Chanukah! This is a picture book adaptation of the series’ laugh-out-loud holiday special. When the kids overhear that Grandpa is going to be in a play all about the “meaning of Chanukah,” they interpret it as the “meany of ­Chanukah.” The babies hope to put this meany down for a nap! In a classic Rugrats style, this Chanukah book is filled with punny humor and lots of comedic misunderstandings. Interspersed throughout is a retelling of the story of Chanukah with Tommy as Judah the Maccabee and Angelica as the king of the ancient Greeks who persecuted the Jewish people. Illustrations create a Chanukah ambiance, with images of dreidels, menorahs, Stars of David, and a banner that reads “Festival of Lights.” ­ VERDICT A fun Chanukah addition to a ­library collection, especially where books based on television shows are ­well-circulated. –Danielle Winter, Brooklyn P.L., NY

Spiro, Ruth. Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! ISBN 9781623541903.
––––. Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas! ISBN 9781623541910.
ea vol: illus. by Irene Chan. 20p. (Baby Loves Science). Charlesbridge. Aug. 2021. Board. $8.99. 
Baby-Toddler –These bright, vividly illustrated board books use Christmas and Hanukkah to explain scientific concepts. In Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas, a baby explores the world of twinkling lights around her, starting with the Christmas tree. “What makes the lights blink and twinkle? Electricity!” The story then launches into an appropriately simplified explanation of atoms, electrons, circuits, and electrical energy. In Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah, the spinning dreidel is used as an example of torque and angular momentum. A basic description of how the game is played as well as why Hanukkah is celebrated blends nicely with the scientific topics. These high concept board books offer a unique angle on the traditional Christmas/Hanukkah book, with succinct explanations of the holidays and the scientific concepts they highlight. Chan’s rich colors and happy faces offer the warm familiarity of family holidays as well as simple visual representations of the themes. VERDICT Recommended in library collections where board books are popular and where holiday books are in demand.–Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood P.L., MA

Wind, Lee. Red and Green and Blue and White. illus. by Paul O. Zelinksy. 32p. Levine Querido. Oct. 2021. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781646140879. 
Gr 1-5–In 1993, the people of Billings, Montana, joined together to fight a series of hate crimes against one of their Jewish neighbors. Wind has simplified this true story with beautiful, poetic text paired with Zelinksy’s rich, layered, and stunning illustrations. On Chanukah, Isaac lights the menorah in his front window, making his house glow blue and white in the night, “on a block dressed up in Red and Green.” When a rock smashes Isaac’s window, his family is afraid to light their menorah. But, “if they didn’t, Isaac knew it would be like hiding they were Jewish. That didn’t feel right.” In a simple act of compassion and solidarity, Isaac’s best friend and neighbor, Teresa, affixes a hand-drawn picture of a menorah to her front window, so that “through the paper, the light shone Blue and White.” Others followed Teresa’s example, and within three weeks menorahs were displayed in more than 10,000 windows so that the entire town glowed “Red and Green and Blue and White.” While the source of the violence is never stated or explained, the dark, expressive illustrations depict the scary, emotional scene with sensitivity. A brief author’s note explains, “the people in Billings chose to not just stand by and be BYstanders while bad things happened to others .They chose to be UPstanders.” For older readers, Janice Cohn's The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate goes into greater detail. ­VERDICT A powerful and inspiring example of community, friendship, respect, and love. Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, ­Highland Park, IL

Zoboi, Ibi. The People Remember. illus. by Loveis Wise.  HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. 2021. ISBN 9780062915641.
PreS-Gr 3 –A primer on the principles of Kwanzaa and an examination of the tenacious spirit of the formerly enslaved African people. Stolen African people from different cultures were forced to build uncommon bonds to survive the transatlantic slave trade. That they survived being separated from their land, culture, and personhood was nothing short of a miracle. Zoboi’s gorgeous prose illuminates all of the ways Black people attempted to reclaim their rights as American citizens. They were often thwarted by a corrupt system bent on consuming African culture without respecting the people who created it. Zoboi creates a colorful time line that covers the horrors of lynching, the great migration, white uprisings, hip hop music, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Along the way, the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba, which were first introduced in 1966, are celebrated. Wise’s illustrations highlight the beauty of African American culture. Their color palette takes readers on an emotional journey that is also a brilliant blend of poetry, African, and African American history. Zoboi skillfully weaves together the narratives of enslaved Africans into a wonderful tapestry that is honest and beautiful. VERDICT Perfect for school and public libraries, this must-have offering celebrates African American cultural identity should be included in all collections.–Desiree Thomas, Worthington Lib., OH

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