Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some Holiday Books

Last year, I did separate roundups of holiday books for kids for both Hanukkah and Christmas because these holidays were so far apart. This year they overlap, so I have done them in one roundup.  Be sure to take a look at last year's books as well as this years. 

The Christmas Menorahs; How a Town Fought Hate
Janice Cohn, DSW, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
Albert Whitman
40 Pages
From the author’s website:
“It’s Hanukkah, and menorahs glow in the windows of the Schnitzer home in Billings, Montana.  Then suddenly, a rock crashes through the window of Isaac Schnitzer’s bedroom.  ‘But, why?’ Isaac wants to know. ‘Because we are Jews,’ his father tells him.
Christmas lights shine in the Hanley home, where Isaac’s friend Teresa and her family decide to do something brave so that the Schnitzers can celebrate their holiday without fear.”
This is based on a true story, telling how two children, two families and a whole community come together to stand against hatred and bigotry.  This isn’t really a WW II story, but refers to the story about King Christian of Denmark wearing a Yellow Star after the Nazi occupation of his country.  I think this is an excellent, sensitive story for young readers about standing up for your beliefs.  The oils illustrations by Bill Farnsworth, on of my favorites, are wonderful.

One Candle
Eve Bunting, illustrated by K. Wendy Popp
Joanna Cotler Books
32 Pages
From the publisher:
“For one family the traditional Hanukkah celebration has a deeper meaning. Amidst the food and the festivities, Grandma and Great-Aunt Rose begin their story- the one they tell each year. They pass on to each generation a tale of perseverance during the darkest hours of the Holocaust, and the strength it took to continue to honor Hanukkah in the only way they could.”  One Candle is a wonderful story about the power of faith and ingenuity under the worst of circumstances, but just keep a box of Kleenex nearby.  The pastel illustrations help enhance this story.

The Hanukkah Ghosts
Malka Penn
Avon Books
80 Pages
From the publisher:
“When Susan visits her aunt's house on the English moors, she encounters some mysterious people. But even stranger, she comes across a barn full of horses--when her Aunt said there hadn't been horses on the grounds in years--and a young girl who says she lived in the house during World War II to escape Hitler's armies. The mysteries may be connected to the Hanukkah candles she and her aunt light each night, and Susan soon learns the truth about Hanukkah--a time of miracles.”
The ambiance of her aunt’s old isolated English estate is an ideal setting for a time-slip ghost story in which a young secular Jewish girl becomes aware of her Jewish identity.  I found it to be a compelling and suspenseful novel.

Franklin and Winston: a Christmas that Changed the World
Douglas Wood, illustrated by Barry Moser
40 Pages
From the publisher:
“At the height of World War II, only a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill began an extraordinary visit, during which they made plans that would lead to the success of the Allied powers as well as to a continuing peace after the war ended. Moving from witty banter to gravely serious discussions-- amid a traditional public celebration of the Christmas holiday-- the two cemented a unique bond as they decided how to confront a menace that threatened all of civilization. 
This was an excellent telling of an important part of the history of WW II, but what really knocked my socks off were the incredible watercolor illustrations by Barry Moser. 

Other Bells for Us to Ring
Robert Cormier
Random House Children’s Books
160 Pages
From the publisher:
“Eleven-year-old Darcy hasn't lived in any one place long enough to have a best friend--until her family settles in Frenchtown and she meets Kathleen Mary O'Hara. Darcy is spellbound by Kathleen Mary's vivid tales of Catholicism. She shows Darcy a world beyond Frenchtown: a world of daring games and secrets, of sins and miracles. With Darcy's father off fighting the war somewhere in Europe, Kathleen Mary couldn't have come into her life at a better time.
Then, just as suddenly as they appeared, Kathleen Mary and her family disappear. While Darcy waits to hear from her, she learns that her father is missing in action. Christmas is coming, and Darcy is unsure about the power of God's love. Will the miracle she hopes for really happen?”
I usually like Robert Cormier, but I had a lot of trouble with this book because it seemed to favor one religion over another, which seemed like the wrong thing to do under any circumstances, but especially in a WW II book. 

The Haunting of Stratton Falls
Brenda Seabrooke
Dutton Children’s Books
151 Pages
From the publisher:
“Life is hard enough for Abby without a ghost. Her father, a soldier, is missing in action, and she and her mother have had to move in with relatives in rural New York State, far from her Florida home. Her cousin Chad and his friends seem to hate her, too. Then she sees the ghost of Felicia Stratton, a girl her own age who died many years before, waiting for her own father to come home from war. Is her appearance a warning? Abby must discover the ghost's secret before it's too late; and she'll need Chad's help.”
I always enjoy a good ghost story, and this one was ok, but I thought it was a little far-fetched.  What I really liked was the descriptions of life on the home front, which I found to be accurate and age appropriate for the readers of this novel.

Great Joy
Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
32 Pages
From the publisher:
“It is just before Christmas when an organ grinder and monkey appear on the street outside Frances’s apartment. When it’s quiet she can hear their music, and when she looks out her window at midnight, she sees them sleeping outside. Finally the day of the Christmas pageant arrives, but when it’s Frances’s turn to speak, all she can think about is the organ grinder’s sad eyes — until a door opens just in time, and she finds the perfect words to share.”
This is not an out and out WW II story, but there are hints in the illustrations – the hairstyles, the clothing, the picture of a serviceman on a table, red, white and blue bunting around a storefront.  It is a sweet story and brought back memories of all those years I also played the angel in the Christmas pageant. Once again, it is a story that is enhanced by the excellent illustrations done by Bagram Ibatoulline.

 I love the messages of Christmas and Hanukkah and I feel that stories set in World War II make their messages all the more important and poignant.  

Take a look at what other people are rounding up for the holidays at Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns


  1. A really interesting selection and several new (to me) books. Heading over to Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns now.

  2. I agree with Barbara, there are intriguing recommendations here. I'll take a look at Kate DiCamillo's first (cos I love Winn-Dixie).

  3. So many great books here! Thanks for taking the time to do this posting. I'm particularly interested in The Christmas Menorahs and The Hanukkah Ghosts. I've just emailed the library to see if they can get them through the ILL program.
    While not a Hanukkah book (in fact set at Passover), I wonder if you've read The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. It was one of my favorites when my kids were younger.