• It’s the birth date of Cornelia Meigs (1884–1973), Invincible Louisa, Swift Rivers; Jim Kjelgaard (1910–1959), Big Red; and Elizabeth Yates (1905–2001), Amos Fortune, Free Man.
  • In 1768 the first edition of Encyclopædia Britannica is published. Read the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol.
  • Thomas Edison creates the first human voice recording—“Mary had a little lamb”—in 1877. Read Mary Had a Little Lamb by Sarah Hale, illustrated by Tomie dePaola.
  • It’s Mitten Tree Day. Read The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen, illustrated by Elaine Greenstein, and A Mountain of Mittens by Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Mitch Vane.

The celebration of Hanukkah, which takes place this year from December 1–9, has generated a number of fine books for children. Today I’d like to look at two picture books that I particularly admire, one classic and one newer title. Trina Schart Hyman won a Caldecott Honor for her spirited artwork in Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, but I particularly love the sly humor of Eric Kimmel’s text for the book. On the first night of Hanukkah, Hershel of Ostropol arrives in a village, silent and dark, where inhabitants are afraid to celebrate the holiday because of the goblins who live in the synagogue. So Hershel heads there with a purpose and mission. “If I can’t outwit a few goblins, then my name isn’t Hershel of Ostropol.” And outwit them he does, each night of the holiday. One particularly ghastly red goblin gets taken to the cleaners by Hershel on the dreidel, although admittedly Hershel stacks the odds in his own favor.

Hershel remains so cool and confident, and the goblins so clueless, that readers never doubt the outcome: Finally, a lighted menorah with nine gleaming candles stands on the hillside, as the whole village celebrates the holiday. In a footnote Kimmel provides information about Hanukkah, and the dreidel. The interplay between text and art, the vigor and exuberance of Trina Schart Hyman’s drawings, and the well-written text make this book a perfect read-aloud for both the classroom and family.

Stephen Krensky’s Hanukkah at Valley Forge provides a more somber text, based on an incident from history. General George Washington actually heard about Hanukkah for the first time from a Polish soldier fighting with him at Valley Forge. Krensky imagines what the conversation might have been like—and compares the Jewish fight for freedom with the American struggle against the British. Greg Harlin has taken this text, filled with history and background about Hanukkah, and made panoramic spreads that feature both the American Revolution and the struggles of the Israelites. In an endnote, Krensky gives his sources for the incident that inspired the book. Published in 2006 and winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award from the Jewish Library Association, Hanukkah at Valley Forge reminds us that creative writers can still find new ways of looking at the holiday.

Even those unfamiliar with Hanukkah will want to pick up these two gems to gain a greater appreciation for the traditions—not to mention American history. And for those who do celebrate the holiday: Happy Hanukkah!

Here’s a page from Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins:


Originally posted December 6, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Caldecott, Hanukkah, History, Holidays, Revolutionary War


  1. Joyce Ray says:

    Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is my favorite Hanukkah tale, Anita. It’s a great choice. On another level, Hershel’s certainty that he can outwit the goblins encourages small children to overcome the fears of their imagination. Eric Kimmel is a master storyteller.

    Krensky’s book sounds unique. The conversation referred to between Washington and his soldier reminds me that as a nation, our understanding of other faith traditions has been a process and one that still continues. Maybe it doesn’t come across that way in the story. I’m going to have a look.

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