Review: Eight Nights of Lights: A Celebration of Hanukkah

Eight Nights of Lights: A Celebration of Hanukkah

by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Hilli Kushnir

Harper (imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz

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Nine small candle-shaped paper booklets are nestled into a menorah-shaped holder in a large folder, in this Hanukkah toy/story. The Shammash booklet contains the lyrics to the traditional song "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" and shows a diverse group of celebrating children. Other candle booklets are labeled "Night 1" and so on, meant to be read in order. The front of each booklet shows an unlit wick; the back shows a candle aflame; if one story is read each night of Hanukkah, it can then be flipped over to light the menorah. The cover includes directions and a brief history of the holiday.

Each booklet contains a short story about Lena, a biracial Jewish girl who has a white father and a brown Latine mother. She celebrates various aspects of the holiday with her family and friends, playing dreidel, pretending to be Maccabees with cousins, giving tzedakah, making latkes, and so on. A variety of skin tones and ethnicities are represented in Lena's Jewish family and community. Creative ways to celebrate are modeled, such as giving gifts of coupons good for an afternoon of sledding or help with the dishes, and having a family latke cook-off, traditional versus sweet potato. While each story is quite short, the nine stories together build a picture of a warm, loving, inclusive Jewish community. The portrayal seems most closely aligned with the Reform movement, as the cantor at the synagogue is a woman, and only the rabbi wears a kippah. The illustrations are warmly colored, rounded and cozy. They evoke the cheer of the festival of lights.

With so many loose components, a library might find this book difficult to circulate; the booklets are also too small to be easily viewed by a large storytime audience. Families will have better luck, especially if their children are mature enough to avoid ripping or losing the booklets. This is a fun Jewish alternative to a Christmas advent calendar, and a lovely example of diverse Jewish representation.

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Reviewer Heidi Rabinowitz is one of the co-admins of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, along with Susan Kusel and Chava Pinchuck. She hosts The Book of Life Podcast: A Show About Jewish Kidlit (Mostly) at Heidi is Past President of the Association of Jewish Libraries, and Library Director at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida.