Several months ago, I learned about the upcoming release of The Night Before Hanukkah. I was curious. Could a popular series written by a Gentile Colorado woman capture the essential elements of Hanukkah?
In 2012, I raised a similar issue in my blog, Agendas and Multicultural Literature. My research focused on 13 qualities that literacy experts consider when rating multicultural children’s literature. One focused on the writer’s background. It questioned whether books written by outsider’s could express the authentic elements of another culture.
Before contacting Natasha Wing, I wondered if her “outsider” status affected the authenticity of her Hanukkah picture book.
After reading the book, I can attest to the book’s adherence to modern Jewish traditions.
In The Night Before Hanukkah, Natasha Wing skillfully uses her popular “The Night Before” series to expose children from all backgrounds to Jewish family traditions. In order to accomplish this goal, she spent time consulting with Jews who candidly shared their experiences. Relying on these facts along with the help of her Jewish editor, Natasha was able to write a charming story that highlights a Jewish family as they celebrate each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah. The opening pages are general in context. However within a few pages, the focus shifts. Readers see the family’s traditions and celebrations through the eyes of the two young children.
The illustrator, Amy Wummer provide detailed illustrations that mirror Jewish celebrations. The Hanukkiah or menorah is lit appropriately and yarmulke/kippot are on the father and young boy’s head while they are reciting the blessings over the candles. The mother also has her head covered. All of the other Jewish symbols, traditions, foods and words are described and illustrated correctly. Anyone unfamiliar with the holiday will get a basic overview of the family traditions associated with the holiday and its historical significance.
Since the book is being marketed to a general audience, it would have been helpful to include a short glossary that summarizes the less familiar words such as gelt, shammash, dreidel, Maccabees, etc. as well as some background information about the time of the Maccabees. Inevitably, readers young and old may be searching for additional information to fill in the gaps of their incomplete knowledge of Hanukkah. For example, children who have limited backgrounds might erroneously conclude that the Maccabees lived after Christianity and Islam started.
Jewish children will be proud to see their traditions spotlighted in this popular series. Children who are not considered part of the majority culture look forward to seeing their customs acknowledged in the media. Far too often, Jewish content books are written for a more select audience. As a consequence, non-Jewish children tend to have limited exposure to Jewish culture. Children who read multicultural literature tend to be more open to individual differences.
Starting from the first page, all young children listening to this book will be lulled by the engaging rhyming format. Natasha creatively weaves in time-honored traditions such as playing dreidel.
It was my turn to go.
If it lands on gimmel, I win!
But shin turned up,
So I put another coin in.
Our dad won the game
When our coins all ran out.
But he divvied up his winnings.
Sharing is what it’s all about.
Once again, without an understanding of what the four Hebrew letters represent in the game, uninformed readers might be left scratching their head due to a lack of understanding.
Many of the illustrations adeptly fill in the gaps and provide colorful picture clues. A limited number of words per page allows for a quick pace and continued interest. If you are looking for a simple children’s picture book that captures Hanukkah family traditions, you will not be disappointed withThe Night Before Hanukkah.
I received a copy of The Night Before Hanukkah in exchange for an interview and honest review.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, December 21, 2014 will be eligible for a book giveaway. Natasha Wing will send the randomly selected winner an autographed copy of The Night Before Hanukkah.
2 New books for Chanukah (2013)
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.