Winter Holiday Wonders

By on December 11, 2013

Although Hanukkah arrives early this year, these holiday stories are enduring and endearing.  They are books families want to return to again and again as the seasons revolve, reminding us of time together. Choose from among these long-lasting books to help make your winter holidays memorable.

The Eighth Menorah

8thmenorahby Lauren L. Wohl, illustrated by Laura Hughes.

Interest Level:  Junior Kindergarten–Grade 1

A treasure hunt in nature helps Sam and his classmates at Hebrew school find decorations to each create their own Hanukkah menorah. Sam decides to place the glowing silvery rock he found just below his clay menorah’s curved hill shape.

But Sam’s family already has seven menorahs! Each one has a special story. What will he do with the one he just created? During Sam’s phone conversations with his modern Granny, he discovers that the condominium, where she just moved, doesn’t allow candles for safety reasons — except in the community room where there is already an electric menorah. Keeping his menorah a secret gives Sam a chance to solve his problem. Cheery illustrations match this gentle story. They accent the relationships at school, in the family and among the neighbors in the condo. At the end are instructions on how to play the dreidl game. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (hardcover) (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:

Hanukkah Bear

hanukkahbearby Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka.  

Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten–Grade 2

It’s the first night of Hanukkah. Old Bear is wakened from his winter sleep by the delicious smells of Bubba Brayna’s potato latkes. Although ninety-seven years old, she’s not able to “hear or see as well as she used to.”  Still, Bubba Brayna’s latkes are the village’s best.

Everything is ready for the rabbi’s visit when she opens the door to Old Bear. Making him welcome as the rabbi, she lights the menorah. They play dreidel with nuts, and together they eat latkes. She even wraps a red knitted scarf around Old Bear’s neck. She wishes the “Rabbi” a Happy Hanukkah before he leaves. Candlelit acrylic illustrations create a cozy kitchen scene.  While a crescent moon and starlit snowy night sky emphasize the outdoor contrast with the warmth inside. When the real rabbi shows up, it’s the village children who discover the bear’s tracks. All her friends help in making more latkes to eat together.

Well-known for his retelling of folktales and legends, award-winning author Kimmel has revised this well-loved holiday story (The Chanukkah Guest). With new illustrations, it is a slightly shortened version of a timeless tale. A latke recipe is included at the end. Holiday House, $16.95 (hardcover) (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:

When Christmas Feels Like Home

christmashomeby Gretchen Griffith, illustrated by Carolina Farias.  

Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten–Grade 2

Luminous illustrations accompany the lyrical text of this immigrant story. Young Eduardo leaves an unnamed Latin American country village with his family for a town in the US.

It doesn’t feel like home. Even his familiar futbol (soccer ball) is shaped differently from the ball he and his new friends in the neighborhood use to play football with. Family members offer support. “Some things take time,” says Tio Miguel. It will feel like home when the mountain turns the “color of the sun,” “pumpkins will smile,” trees will become “standing skeletons,” and words will “float like clouds from your mouth.”

Spanish words and phrases enhance this reassuring tale, with repetition in English or use in illustrations or context. Comforting autumn colors match the narrative. Just before Christmas, when it’s time to set out the hand-carved Nativity set Eduardo made with his grandfather, the predictions have come true. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (hardcover)(This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:

The 12 Days of Christmas

12dayscmasby Jane Cabrera.  

Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 2

This new version of a favorite carol appeals to children of all ages. Beginning with a “party in a pear tree,” this chipper adaptation includes two drumming dogs, three cute cats, and four magic mice. The warmly dressed boy and girl (true loves!) gather with the animals around an outdoor tree, lit by five shining stars. Sunny acrylic illustrations feature animated animals (except for the “6 bears a-snoozin”!). Each one is doing something familiar. Following are seven squirrels skiing, eight elves a-baking, nine foxes sledding, ten snowmen singing, eleven reindeer dancing, and twelve penguins skating. Santa arrives by sleigh to take the children home. Easy to sing lyrics, with music notation, are at the end. Holiday House, $16.95 (hardcover) (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:

Winter According to Humphrey

by Betty G. Birney. $14.99 (hardcover)  152 pages, sixteen chapters. Penguin, $5.99 (paperback) (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online: or to borrow at the Miami Dade Library: Main Branch, Miami Lakes, Opa Locka.)

Princess Posey and the Christmas Magic

by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson. 86 pages, ten chapters. Penguin, $4.99 (paperback) $13.99 (hardcover) (This book is available to purchase from Books & Books online:

Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, teaches classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web:

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