Monday, November 26, 2007

Magic & Monsters: Picture Books for Hanukkah

Written by
Eric Kimmel
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Holiday House, 1989

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is my favorite Hanukkah read-aloud picture book for the Festival of Lights. Kimmel, a great storyteller, hit a literary homerun with this spooky tale, which is a favorite of elementary school children.

Wicked goblins haunt an old synagogue at the top of the hill in Ostropol. They make life miserable for the villagers. The goblins especially hate Hanukkah. They do everything in their power to ruin the holiday for the people. To rid Ostropol of the goblins, the menorah candles in the old synagogue must be lit every night of Hanukkah. On the final night of the holiday, the king of the goblins must light the candles himself. Hershel, the main character, is not afraid of the goblins so he volunteers to spend the eight nights alone in the haunted synagogue. Hershel proves he is not only brave…but also clever. He outwits the goblins and destroys their power over the village.

Trina Schart Hyman received a Caldecott Honor for the illustrations she created for this original story that reads like an old tale. She captures the mood and drab setting perfectly with her use of gray, black, brown, and blue in her artistic compositions. Her goblins are creepy looking creatures. Her painting of the silhouette of the towering red-eyed goblin king standing in the doorway of the synagogue is truly frightening. Story and art combine to make this book a surefire hit with young kids.

At the end of the book, Kimmel includes information about Hanukkah, the menorah, the dreidel, and potato pancakes.

Written by
Eric Kimmel
Illustrated by
Jon Goodell
Doubleday, 2001

Another of my favorite Hanukkah books is an exciting tale, also written by Eric Kimmel, entitled Zigazak!: A Magical Hanukkah Night. I used to read it aloud in my school library. My students loved it!

In this story, little devils flying over the town of Brisk notice menorahs shining in the windows and deduce it must be Hanukkah. They decide to have some fun. They use their magic powers to disrupt the holiday celebration in the town. Zigazak! Dreidels grow arms and legs and begin dancing in the butcher’s house. Zigazak! Latkes go zipping through the air at Hannah Leah’s. Zigazak! Instruments fly out of musicians’ hands and play a lively kazatzka and candles explode like fireworks, shooting colored flames through the house of the town’s richest resident.

The village is in pandemonium. The frightened townspeople run to the home of their rabbi for help. The rabbi is a wise man. He confronts the evil spirits. The calm and clever holy man outwits the mischievous devils and the town of Brisk ends up celebrating Hanukkah as it never had before.

Jon Goodell’s illustrations bring us the action of this hectic holiday night of flying latkes, dancing dreidels, airborne instruments, and rockets of colored flames shooting through the air. He also shows the emotions of surprise, fear, sadness on the faces of the story characters. His demons are devilish looking, indeed—but not too scary for young children to appreciate.

Click here to view an illustration from Zigazak!.
Click here to view the cover art for Zigazak!.


Kimberly/lectitans said...

I love Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. It is such a great book, and from it I took my diet of boiled eggs and pickles.

Elaine Magliaro said...


My students loved the book, too. I had to order three additional copies for my library. I couldn't keep the book on the shelf. They borrowed Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins throughout the school year--not just in December.

Kimberly/lectitans said...

My brother actually staged a play based on Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, now that I think about it. He played the rabbi, complete with paper forelocks.