Review: Hanukkah Upside Down

Hanukkah Upside Down

by Elissa Brent Weissman, illustrated by Omer Hoffmann

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Ann D. Koffsky
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From their homes in New York and New Zealand, cousins Noah and Nora celebrate Hanukkah. But which one's got it right side up, and which upside down? They have an eight-night competition to decide which side of the world celebrates it best. Is Hanukkah better in New York’s winter or New Zealand’s summer? Does it go best with snowballs or surfboards?

As the competition goes on, readers get to see how each cousin celebrates the holiday differently, and also what they have in common. While they each do things differently from different sides of the world, they BOTH light the chanukiah, spin a sivivon, and enjoy latkes and sufganiot. The story is upbeat and cheerful throughout, with the competition never getting anything beyond friendly.

The arc of the story—one new activity of difference, and one in common for each night—is straightforward, and serves as a useful device for introducing the symbols and objects of Hanukkah. The cartoony-yet-sophisticated illustrations add generous amounts of humorous details, like when Nora finds encounters a fun lizard when she goes for a walk, and the comical expressions on Noah’s dog’s face.

I found this to be a very clever premise, and enjoyed how the story showed both the diversity of the Jewish experience, while at the same time highlighting what Jews across the world share in common. Seeing that both families eat latkes, light the menorah and play dreidel even while they are across an ocean from each other sends a subtle, lovely message about how the Jewish people are all one family.

The Jewish representation in this book is very authentic. It shows contemporary Jewish families, with one family of mixed race. Some readers who are unfamiliar with the holiday might have appreciated some backmatter explaining the meaning behind the holiday and rituals, since explanations are not a part of the story. I would have appreciated seeing even more Jewish details around the home, like a mezuzah or a kippah—but one page does feature a tzedakah box and the Hanukkah symbols of latkes, dreidel, menorahs, are all included and celebrated. Rituals are introduced as a natural part of family life without lecturing about them. Overall, a fun read, that emphasizes the diversity of the Jewish community, while still celebrating its common ground.

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Reviewer Ann D. Koffsky is the author and/ or illustrator of many Jewish books for children, including the forthcoming PING PONG SHABBAT, from Little Bee. Her book NOAH'S SWIMATHON received a Sydney Taylor notable designation from the Association of Jewish Libraries.