Some years I approach the new crop of Hanukkah picture books with trepidation: What new stories could possibly be told about the Jewish Festival of Lights, an ancient holiday that’s become a staple of December festivities? Happily, though, this year’s Hanukkah books include three titles that reimagine the genre in ways that are rich, fresh and delicious.
Fantasy lovers proceed with caution when publishers promise a book will be “the next Harry Potter,” as so many new titles given that moniker ultimately disappoint. But Lauren Oliver’s latest—billed as co-written by the shadowy H.C. Chester—may be the closest thing to another Potter book to hit shelves in a long time.
Eccentric mastermind Garrison Griswold, founder of the popular Book Scavenger website, is about to launch an elaborate new game when his plans are violently interrupted. The only clue he leaves behind is a specially printed copy of an Edgar Allan Poe short story, “The Gold-Bug.”
In the time Before, Peter Lee and his older brother, Nelson, loved baseball. They played it, listened to it on the radio and cheered for both Taiwan and the United States in the 1972 Little League World Series. But now Peter lives in the After. With Nelson dead from a car accident, Peter’s mother does nothing but watch TV, his younger sister is increasingly frustrated and his father, Ba, has become more distant than ever.
Ten years ago, Jeanne Birdsall introduced readers to the funny, smart, sweet-but-never-saccharine Penderwick sisters, whose initial summer adventures were followed by two additional books. This fourth installment opens five years after The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. With Rosalind away at college and Skye and Jane busy with teenage pursuits, the focus is on 10-year-old Batty, along with her stepbrother Ben and the newest Penderwick sibling, 2-year-old Lydia.
In 1895, 11-year-old Stanley Slater and his mother must move to a logging camp for her job. Now he has to live with his grandmother—who is 99.9 percent evil—and put up with his cousin Geri.
Whether you light a menorah every year or are new to the Jewish Festival of Lights, you’ll find something to appreciate among this year’s Hanukkah picture book offerings. All three involve combinations of rhyming verse and fine art, as well as new takes on old traditions.
First there was Wilbur the pig. Then there was Ivan the shopping mall gorilla. Now there’s Audrey the cow.
Twins Johnny and Will and their friend Rad are back for more adventures in the third installment of Allen Johnson Jr.’s Blackwater Novels, set in 1940s Alabama and Georgia.
There’s something about cats. In 2010, Benno and the Night of Broken Glass by Meg Wiviott and Josée Bisaillon showed the Nazi Kristallnacht riots from the point of view of an alley cat. Before that, The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse and Wendy Watson told how stray cats distracted Nazi dogs, allowing food to be smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto. And now there’s Clare, a cat who sees the contemporary Israeli/Palestinian conflict from a unique point of view.