Even though my kids have outgrown picture books (to the extent that one can outgrow picture books), we have a box of Christmas picture books we unpack early every December. We rejoice in their arrival, greet them like the dear friends they are, and snuggle with them on the couch. Reading these books together is the quiet in the midst of a busy season. It is often the time I connect with my children's hearts, and it helps us reflect on why we celebrate this season. Allow me to introduce you to our favorite Christmas friends.
Keeping with the cat theme, Here comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda (2014, Dial Books for Young Readers) is a definite favorite among my kids. Cat is a little concerned, as his current year to date naughty/nice pie chart is not in his favor. What if he becomes his own Santa? Or could he possibly uncover some holiday spirit and do something nice? When we first met Cat in Here comes the Easter Cat, we fell in love with his can-do attitude, his poster-board signs, and the sweet heart that hides under his curmudgeony exterior. Here comes Santa Cat humorously delivers on all of the above.
From the time my daughters were born, we read to them every night before bed. When each Jewish holiday rolls around we seek out books to explain the holiday, share our traditions and just have some cuddly fun together. There is a saying in Hebrew--L'Dor V'Dor--which means "from generation to generation". We pass down our traditions to each generation, and to us, reading is just as important as eating latkes with applesauce during Hanukkah. (OK, maybe the latkes come first...)
When Mindy Saved Hanukkah by Eric A. Kimmel; illustrated by Barbara McClintock (1998, Scholastic)
Like the Borrowers, the Kleins are little people who make their home with the belongings of regular-sized humans. A thimble is a flower pot; a postage stamp serves as artwork above the matchbox couch.
The Kleins live within the walls of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. When they realize they need wax for Hanukkah candles, they remember seeing a stray candle by the Torah in the synagogue. Papa ventures out, but discovers a fierce Antiochus of a cat in the sanctuary. After he is injured, the only family member deemed fit enough for retrieving the candle is Mindy.
The illustrations by Barbara McClintock show gorgeous scenes of the synagogue from perspectives grand and small. The love, joy and feisty spirit of the Klein clan echoes the story of the Maccabees and makes this a meaningful, heartwarming tale.
This is a classic! Kids will crack up at how the elderly Bubba Brayna mistakes her early Chanukkah guest for the Rabbi—who happens to be very hungry for her famous latkes. I still laugh aloud every time I read it. No matter how rude her guest, Bubba Brayna makes it a Happy Chanukkah for him.
This exploration of Hankkah traditions is told by short stories representing each country, from Israel to Tunisia. It includes recipes for the traditional Hanukkah foods of each region, like Burmelos from Turkey and Precipizi from Italy. This book demonstrates to Jewish children that no matter where you go in the world, a shared Hebrew language, the Torah and tradition unite us.
The Jewish values of having compassion for animals and welcoming guests are on full display in this funny tale about Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah date. (The title is the matchmaker kind of “match”.) Personally, I love the puns, farm animals and food—and it doesn’t have to be Hanukkah to laugh along with this book.