Four Sides, Eight Nights: A New Spin on Hanukkah, by Rebecca Tova Ben-Zvi, lives up to its subtitle. This new spin on Hanukkah is child-friendly, fun and educational: a rare mix. It is a dense little book that reads as light as my latkes should be. Facts galore—about history, religion, trivia, science, food and customs—are organized in manageable bites, including marginalia with fascinating tidbits. Charming, detailed pencil drawings invite young readers to actually read the thing, and young listeners to ask what it says.
The author goes beyond Maccabees and grandma's latkes (although no Hanukkah book would be complete without these two pillars of identity) and gets practical with "Eight Hanukkah Dos and Don'ts"; creative with ideas for homemade dreidels and gifts; scientific with probability and physics; and historical with yes, the Maccabees, but also with the stories behind "the" dreidel song and the Hanukkah custom of eating dairy foods.
The chapters on dreidels illustrate the depth of the whole book. We don't just get the rules of the game, we get ancient origins (sheep knucklebones as dice); games using tops from Greek, Roman, Japanese, French, Korean and English traditions; a list of "top" fun gaming units for playing dreidel (chocolate kisses, etc.); and an introduction to friction, inertia, tangential points and speed as they relate to the art and science of dreidel. (By the way, the average dreidel speed is 3,300 revolutions per minute.)
I haven't even mentioned the molten lead, elephants and "very dangerous cheese," but you can read about these factoids before wrapping this book to give to your favorite kid, parent, grandparent or teacher.
Joanna Brichetto negotiates Hanukkah and all Jewish holidays as a graduate student in Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University.