There’s this joke among us Jewish folks that Hanukkah is always either too early or too late… so when on earth is it ever on time? This year the holiday is so early in December that we’ve barely finished our Thanksgiving leftovers, yet I’m already preparing to make potato latkes for our family Hanukkah party this weekend. Yum! My kids have pulled out our menorahs (including the ones we’ve all made at school over the years!), played with our entire dreidel collection, and are already trying to pull the chocolate gelt down from the tippy-top of our pantry. The countdown has officially begun!
Whatever you celebrate this December, whether you’ll be lighting your own menorah for eight nights or teaching your kids about the holiday at home or in school, Happily Ever Elephants has compiled a list of our very favorite Hanukkah books for kids of all ages. These books celebrate the brave Maccabees who stood up to King Antiochus’ huge army and fought for the right to practice their religion and study their Torah. The books also celebrate the miracle that occurred when the Maccabees took back their temple, and the tiny amount of oil they had kept the menorah lit for eight whole nights, giving them enough time to find more oil for the temple’s eternal flame.
So gather your dreidels, eat some gelt, and settle in with these special books about the Festival of Lights. Happy Hanukkah to all!
Without further ado, here are our favorite Hanukkah stories, beginning with books for your youngest readers, and gradually progressing to our older ones. Enjoy!
Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, illustrated by Amy Cartwright: Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay… Your young kids will be mesmerized by this adorable little board that brings the famous dreidel song to life. The cute illustrations and pop up detail at the end will have your children totally enchanted. The spinning dreidel makes their eyes widen with joy, and I guarantee it — when you read this book with tiny tots, they will make you feel like the greatest showman in the world!
Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, by Sylvia Rouss and illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn: This is a wonderful Hanukkah book for your toddlers, a part of the Sammy Spider series that helps the youngest readers learn about the Jewish holidays. In this installment, Sammy Spider looks on as the Shapiro family lights the menorah and spins brightly colored dreidels to celebrate the festival of lights. Sammy longs for a dreidel of his own, but his mother continuously reminds him “Spiders don’t spin dreidels. Spiders spin webs!” My littlest students adore Sammy Spider!
Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas, by Pamela Ehrenberg and illustrated by Anjan Sarkar: Move over latkes, hello dosas! We adore this book about one young boy with a multicultural family - an Indian mom and a Jewish dad, to be exact. So as Hanukkah approaches and the family gets ready to celebrate, Indian traditions and foods are woven into the lively narrative. Any book that embraces a unity of culture and practices is a winner in our world!
Maccabee!: The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by David Harrington: Judah and his team of super-hero like Maccabees fight to free Jerusalem from the cruel King Antiochus in this rhythmic, rhyming story that is perfect for reading aloud. The book tells of the miraculous oil that lasted for eight days and the Maccabee’s determination to stand up for what they believed in, making this a perfect read to share with little ones curious about the real story behind the holiday.
Hanukkah Bear, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka: This story never disappoints and is one of my absolute favorite Hanukkah tales. A retelling of The Hanukkah Guest, Hanukkah Bear tells of an old woman, nearly blind and deaf, who is known throughout her village for her fabulous latkes. When Hanukkah arrives, the woman invites the rabbi to dinner to celebrate Hanukkah and feast on latkes, but the aroma from her kitchen awakens an old bear who arrives at her home before the rabbi. Due to her poor vision and eyesight, the story never fails to elicit giggles as the old lady mistakes the bear’s furry coat and happy growls for the rabbi’s beard and blessings.
Meet the Latkes, by Alan Silberberg: Lucy Latke comes from a family of — you guessed it — latkes! And these potato pancakes are a little wacky. So when Grandpa Latke tells the story of Hanukkah to the family, complete with mighty Mega-bees who battle evil alien potatoes, things get a little off the rails. Laugh out loud funny for those looking for a creative and fun take on the Hanukkah story!
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman: We love this story of clever Hershel who outwits the goblins that repeatedly attempt to ruin Hanukkah for everyone in a small village. How does he do so? With pickles and eggs and dreidels, of course! This a unique adaptation of the ancient Hanukkah story, reminding all that miracles can happen even when the odds seem stacked against you.
Chanukah Lights, by Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda: This is a stunner of a pop-up book, following the Festival of Lights through place and time as the Jewish people search for a land to call home. For each of eight nights, the menorah is pictured in a different scene, and the intricate pop-up designs on each page are sure to thrill little readers.
The Dreidel that Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah, by Martha Seif Simpson and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard: Oh, how I love this wonderful spin on Hanukkah miracles! What happens when a peddler gifts a toy-shop owner an exquisite dreidel? The owner sells it at a hefty-price. But the wealthy purchaser and his daughter are distraught that the dreidel doesn’t spin, so they demand their money back. On and on it goes, with each spoiled customer returning the defective dreidel, until a poor man and his son enter the shop, content to simply peruse all the wonderful toys. And so it is that these two, the only patrons carrying the true spirit of Hanukkah within their hearts, are able to witness the small miracle of the dazzling dreidel.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings, by Tanya Simon and Richard Simon, and illustrated by Mark Siegel: A young refugee arrives in New York City on the seventh night of Hanukkah, after escaping the horrors of Kristallnacht and World War II. In his pocket? A photograph and the address of an aunt he has never met. As Oskar wanders through the city in search of his new home, he encounters many of the city’s residents who offer him small acts of kindness, reminding him of his father’s words: “You have to look for the blessings.” A true, timeless beauty.
The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Lisa Brown: Oh my goodness. The first time I read this to my students, they were in hysterics, laughing so hard some of them literally had tears streaming down their faces. This zany story, written by THE Lemony Snicket, begins with the birth of a potato latke that starts screaming the moment it hits the frying pan. And then? The latke takes off… and tries to explain the miracle of Hanukkah to flashing Christmas lights, candy canes, and a Christmas tree. Love, love, love.
Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes and Dreidels, by Deborah Heiligman: This stunning book does what National Geographic does best - it pairs gorgeous photographs and smart text to teach readers about the history and significance of Hanukkah, and it illustrates how Hanukkah is celebrated around the world - from Israel to India to Ghana. With discussions ranging from lighting the menorah, to the traditional foods eaten during the festival, to the spinning dreidels, this is a wonderful, factual introduction to this festive holiday.
Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story, by Marci Stillerman and illustrated by Perren Gerber and Pesach Gerber: This is my very favorite Hanukkah book to read with my upper elementary students. Nine Spoons is set in a Nazi concentration camp, and it tells the story of a group of young women in one of the barracks who search for nine spoons. Why? So they can make a menorah for the children in their barracks and celebrate Hanukkah in secret. Utensils were a rarity in the camps, and the celebration of a Jewish holiday was literally done at the risk of death. Based on a true story, this book is a phenomenal testament to the importance of fighting for the freedom to practice your religion and keeping meaningful traditions alive even amidst the most unthinkable horrors.
Hanukkah at Valley Forge, by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Greg Harlin: During the American Revolution, George Washington sees a soldier lighting the Hanukkah candles and murmuring a prayer. The soldier then tells Washington all about Hanukkah and the Maccabee’s triumph against the oppressive King Antiochus and his strong army. Washington finds inspiration in the soldier’s story, even drawing some parallels between the Hanukkah story and the American fight for independence. A wonderful complement to any classroom learning about the Revolution.
Happy Hanukkah, friends! And if you are looking for our list of holiday books including books about Christmas and Kwanzaa, make sure to click here!