Note: This is a refreshed version of a piece I published in 2019, with a few new titles added.
In our house, we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. I love our blended traditions, but with two little kids, we can get overwhelmed with gifts and just… stuff. I’m always on the lookout for new holiday traditions, and one I adapted from a wise friend of mine is to gift a book (instead of a toy) for each night of Hanukkah.
Truth time. This is the third year I’ve tackled this tradition, and last year I had a healthy mix of Hanukkah and non-Hanukkah books to give. And while I’d like to admit that I only give Hanukkah books (sorry, Mom), my actual list is a hybrid. And here’s the thing: for all of the wonderful Christmas books out there, and the new characters that are celebrating Christmas (Llama Llama, Construction Site, Little Blue Truck—I'm talking to you!), there just aren’t the same amount of books for Hanukkah. Yet. Sadly, it was a struggle to come up with eight books I liked for this post. And I hope that this will change in coming years. (2020 update: There were a few more great books this year, and one that I missed last year that my kids absolutely adored.)
So here’s an expanded list of Hanukkah books to gift to your little readers:
Latke, the Lucky Dog by Ellen Fischer, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke
This adorable story about a family that rescues a dog on the first night of Hanukkah and names him Latke is going to be a huge hit with my animal-loving kids. Poor Latke has no idea how to behave so he ends up opening presents, chewing on candles, and—yep—eating latkes. By night 8, both Latke and his new family have figured out how to properly behave.
The Night Before Hanukkah by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Amy Wummer
This take on “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” is clever, even if the idea of a night before an eight-day festival doesn’t really hold up. But my kids won’t care, and the actual description of the story of Hanukkah is really well done in this book.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen & Mark Teague
I adore this series of “How Do Dinosaurs” books, which tackles everything from going to sleep to birthdays. The narrator questions how the dinosaurs would behave, which is first in horrible ways like “does he grab up all gelt?” Of COURSE dinosaurs don’t do that! They are gracious and polite, just like your children! Right? Right. This is one of the highlights of this year’s stack and will probably be handed out on night 1.
D is for Dreidel: A Hanukkah Alphabet by Greg Paprocki
The jacket image online doesn’t do this book justice, unfortunately. It’s truly a beautifully designed book that will be an eye-catching read for the younger children in your life. With pages like “L is for Latkes” or “I is for Israel,” this is a perfect Hanukkah and Jewish primer.
Good Night Hanukkah by Adam Gamble
I could (and may) write an entire post about how much I love the line of Good Night Our World books (UPDATE: I did!). This book was a no-brainer addition to our stack this year. I can’t wait to read this to my kids—they are going to love the beautiful drawings of families celebrating Hanukkah and learning a little more about all the different traditions.
Happy Hanukkah, Curious George by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey
As an adult, it’s been fun to dive back into the world of Curious George. He truly lives a very culturally rich life, so of course George and the Man with the Yellow Hat join a Hanukkah party. My mother would be very proud that the focus of the party is games, latkes, and charity, not on gift giving. Also, my older son loves applesauce, so he thinks anything involving Curious George and applesauce—you can only imagine what happens here—is “really silly.”
Elmo's Little Dreidel by Naomi Kleinberg, illustrated by Christopher Moroney
Elmo gets invited to his friends Gil and Susie’s family Hanukkah party, where he learns to play dreidel. At the end of the night, Elmo leaves with a perfect gift, his own dreidel. As an adult, I was happy to brush up on my dreidel game skills and be able to play along with my kids. And as a parent, thank you again to Sesame Street for being so inclusive to all children.
Goodnight Bubbala by Sheryl Haft, illustrated by Jill Weber
This is a joyful parody by Sheryl Haft: My husband and I memorized Goodnight Moon so we could “read” it in the dark while putting our kids to sleep, so I think they’ll get a kick out of this parody, even if they don’t get it. This is really more of a book for parents—and grandparents—as it incorporates Yiddish sayings and gently pokes fun at stereotypes into a goodnight book. This book made me giggle, and I plan to ask my father (aka, Zayde Bob) to read it to my kids over the holidays
Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf by Greg Wolfe, illustrated by Howard McWilliam
This book arrived at our house last year after I wrote this piece, but it was my kids’ favorite holiday book, so I wanted to make sure to mention it this year. Growing up celebrating Hanukkah, I admit I felt a bit left out of the seasonal traditions: Christmas movies, caroling, even the concept of Christmas cookies—they were all directed at those who celebrated Christmas. So I love that Shmelf takes a new elf from the North Pole who realizes the Jewish children aren’t on the naughty/nice list and has Santa anoint him the Hanukkah Elf. It brings that bit of magic to the season of Hanukkah. I wish I had this book growing up.
The Eight Knights of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Galia Bernstein
This clever and inclusive book has Lady Sadie’s children, eight knights, chasing after a dragon named Dreadful that is ruining Hanukkah. Working its way through the Hanukkah traditions, including mitzvoth (good deeds), this book culminates in a joyful celebration of the last night of Hanukkah. There’s no focus on gift giving in this book, and little kids will get a laugh out of the word play (knights/nights).
The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol by Arthur A. Levine, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
This is undoubtedly a beautiful book—its pages are (literally) gilded in gold. But what truly struck me as a parent was the Author’s Note at the end of the book, which talked about Levine’s own experience with erasure in holiday advertisements, songs, and specials that are geared especially for children. I shared this feeling growing up, and while at my heart I know gift-giving isn’t core to Hanukkah, it was one thing that brought joy to the season when I was a child. In The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, Levine concocts an ancient tale of a magical figure who partners with Santa Claus to spread holiday cheer—and presents—to children of Hanukkah and Christmas.
Happy Llamakkah by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Lydia Nichols
Let’s just agree on the fact that anything that includes llamas is bound to be adorable. And this book is no exception. Illustrated with enticing pictures by Lydia Nichols, a family of llamas celebrates "Llamakkah." This book is geared toward younger children who are just learning the traditions of Hanukkah, and includes some historical information on the holiday at the back of the book. My littlest guy is going to love this one.
Try the tradition of gifting one kids' book for every night of Hanukkah.