Review: Hanukkah at Monica's

Hanukkah at Monica's 

written & illustrated by Varda Livney

PJ Publishing, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rinat Hadad Siegel

We have all attended Hanukkah parties, but parties with an octopus, a jellyfish, and a pirate as guests are quite rare. Varda Livney has so much fun in this clever and imaginative picture book. The story begins with child-friendly illustrations where we see a cheerful dark-skinned girl, Monica, pushing a shopping cart filled with russet potatoes (the ones recommended for latkes, by the way…). We learn that Monica is having a party for Hanukkah, but not with typical guests. Each guest is a clever twist on a Hanukkah custom. The octopus and its eight arms brings the Menorah. The pirate brings in gold coins, and the jellyfish carries in jelly donuts.

Livney uses repetition, allowing young readers to guess who the next guest will be, offering a hint with an illustration of the guest's shadow on the door. The climax of the story relates to the Hanukkah miracle: when Monica and her guests want to make latkes, they discover that they are out of oil -- a terrific connection to the story of the Maccabees. The miracle comes in the shape of a robot guest who brings oil with him. I had a bit of a rough time with this solution to their problem, but who can argue with miracles?!

Monica and all the guests celebrate together and share goodies. The story ends with an illustration of Monica sleeping on an armchair, implying that the whole story might have been a dream.

Varda Livney and PJ Library did such a fantastic job on this book with its imaginative narrative and cheerful outlook on Hanukkah. The back flap is extremely helpful and gives a creative suggestion for an alternative game for little friends who have difficulty spinning the dreidel, called Hide-and-Seek Dreidel. We have explanations about the history of Hanukkah and the origin of the different traditions, like eating fried food and lighting the Hanukkiyah. Adults are provided with leading questions they can discuss with the young readers. The font and illustrations throughout the book are child-friendly, cheerful, and merry with light festive pastel colors. This book is an excellent choice for a gift when you show up as a guest at a Hanukkah party this year.

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Reviewer Rinat Hadad Siegel was born in Israel to a Jewish Mizrahi family. She is a former educator and resource teacher for elementary and middle-school-aged kids. Rinat received her Bachelor's Degree from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and holds a Master's Degree in Education from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. In 2021, Rinat was selected to attend a writing workshop The Stories We Tell sponsored by PJ Library, NuRoots, and the Highlight Foundation. Rinat has participated in many writing classes and workshops, and is an active member of SCBWI and the Children’s Book Insider.