Review: J Is for Janucá

J is for Janucá

by Melanie Romero, illustrated by Cassie Gonzales

Lil' Libros, 2022

Category: Picture Books 
Reviewer: Karin Fisher-Golton

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J is for Janucá is a joyful, educational celebration of languages and of Hanukkah. Each page of this alphabet book introduces a Spanish word and its English equivalent, beginning with “Aa is for Aceite/Oil.” Each page also includes a paragraph of text in English and a paragraph in Spanish with the same content. Depending on the age, language abilities, and interests of the reader, one could read one, both, or neither paragraph. The letters follow the Spanish alphabet, so include ch, ll, ñ, and rr. This structure, in itself, demonstrates information about language—that there are multiple alphabets and multiple words that describe the same holiday. And Jews celebrate Hanukkah in many languages.

Melanie Romero’s cheery, compact text is rich with information. The first several letters of the book cover key components of Hanukkah, including oil, blessings, gathering, and dreidels. Later in the book, readers are introduced to more general topics about Judaism including places of worship on the “Tt is for Temple/Templo” page and hamsas on the “Ww is Wisdom/Sabiduría” page. (The latter is the only page where the English word appears first, though sometimes the English and Spanish words are nearly the same.) For the most part the text will be easily understood by the older end of a picture book audience, though the occasional entry has a sophisticated word or concept—for example, under “Ee is for Estrella de David/Star of David,” the star is described as a symbol of a “modern Jewish identity”/”identidad judía moderna.”

A behind the scenes note here: I (the reviewer) know enough Spanish to follow the content, but not enough to comment on the quality of the translation and the dialects used. I also don’t know Ladino. Spanish and Ladino speakers with an interest in reviewing for the Sydney Taylor Shmooze, click here to learn more!

There is no direct mention of Ladino in the book. And, though there are a few references to Yiddish, including a “Yy is for Yidis/Yiddish” page, the history of Yiddish in Latin America is not covered. So while this book provides a deep experience of language, it is not an exploration Jewish languages in relation to Spanish.

Cassie Gonzales’s illustrations depict the content in bold colors that are as cozy and bright in tone as Hanukkah itself. A warm-brown-skinned Jewish family with a girl, boy, mother, father, grandma, and grandpa are depicted in portraits in the end papers and make appearances throughout the book. Though the illustrations have a simple quality, they are full of opportunities to discover accurate details. Readers who look closely at the “Ññ is for año/year” page, can see that the month is Kislev and the 25th is circled with the words “First Night!” (in English only). Throughout the book, Hanukkah candles are placed and being lit in the traditional order. The flap copy says that Gonzales is a Mexican Jewish illustrator and designer, and that this is her first picture book—I hope more are to come!

J is for Janucá is filled with details about Hanukkah, Judaism, and language that families and young readers will enjoy and access on many levels. It is a contender for recognition from the Sydney Taylor Book Award.
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Reviewer Karin Fisher-Golton is a freelance children’s book editor and the author of the board book My Amazing Day: A Celebration of Wonder and Gratitude; retellings of folktales for a reading program; and poems in several anthologies. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Read more about her work at