Review: Hello, Hanukkah!

Hello, Hanukkah!

written and illustrated by Susan S. Novich

Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)

Category: Picture Book
Reviewer: Eva L. Weiss

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The eye-pleasing colors and collage illustrations of this holiday board book will appeal to toddlers and parents alike. In a note, author and illustrator Susan S. Novich explains her penchant for creating art with felt and scraps that other people would throw away. Hello, Hanukkah! features an appealing family of badgers, with a father and son who wear kippot. The young cub celebrates the holiday through rituals, perching himself on the number drawn on each page, counting the nights, and reciting the color of the candles.  

The book light-heartedly covers many educational bases—blessings, songs, latkes, and stories, as well as calling out numbers and colors. Alongside the candle-lighting badger (a mammal common in Israel), each page also features the distinctive crowned Hoopoe bird, Israel’s national bird. The nightly Hanukkah celebrations include filling doughnuts with jelly, called by their Hebrew name, sufganiyot, as well as the frying of latkes. The shamash is not mentioned until the last page, where its role in assisting in the lighting of the other candles is recalled, but not fully explained. The combinations and contrasts in colors on each page create a tableau that is both vivid and soothing. All of the elements of the book gently appeal to the senses.

This book is a worthy candidate for the Sydney Taylor Book Awards, commendable for the way it seamlessly introduces Hanukkah traditions into the format and skills-building purposefulness of a board book. The introduction of Israeli fauna is a lovely touch, and it is hoped that parents as well as preschool teachers may be alert to their significance. The skyscape on the opening page hints that the story is being told in Israel. The cumulative text builds momentum, but the author-illustrator's artistic talents shine the most brightly. The simplicity and sophistication of the illustrations are the winning feature of this board book, gratifying for young children and adults alike. 
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Reviewer Eva L. Weiss is a writer, editor, and translator. She was born in New York City and worked in the publishing industry there before making her home in Israel many years ago. She is the author of the children's book
I am Israeli (Mitchell-Lane, 2016)