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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Hanukkah, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Happy Hanukkah!


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2. Happy Hanukkah to All!

The Story of Hanukkah

by David Adler; illustrated by Jill Weber


While writing this post, and turning to the back of this picture book, I saw a review from “School Library Journal.” In part it said:


     With so much hoopla focusing

     on less historical, more celebratory

     aspects of Hanukkah, it is good to

     have a book that tells it like it was.


And I thought to myself, how similar this ancient story leading to the celebration of Hanukkah, can get equally underplayed, in much same way that the story of Christmas can sometimes be, if we let it, by the secular celebrations that surround it. Interesting!

David Adler provides a very thorough and interesting introduction to young readers to the celebration of Hanukkah by the telling of its origins in Judea in the Israel of long  ago, and the bold story of the Maccabees.

Kids will learn of the ancient temple, high on a mount called The House of God, and there shone a light called the “ner tamid” that burned always.

Enter the Greek King called Antiochus IV who tears down the walls of Jerusalem and forbids the lighting of Sabbath candles or the study of Jewish law.

And a Jewish leader/ fighter arises among the people named Mattathias that, along with groups made up of shepherds and farmers, battles the oppressive forces.

His son is called Judah the Maccabee or “hammer” and those people that fight with him, are called Maccabees.

In the final battle, against overwhelming 6-1odds, Antiochus and his army are finally routed.

Kids love when the odds are stacked and the “good guys win” and they do here.

Young readers will follow the cleaning of Jerusalem from the rebuilding of its new altar, to its redone gates and doors.

And they find, the “ner tamid, with a small bit of oil left in a jar; just enough for one day, still aglow, after eight!”

So, Judah declares on the anniversary of that date every year, an eight day celebration will occur. And it is called Hanukkah meaning dedication, as it is the day celebrating the rededication of the Temple.

Jill Weber’s warmth of colored acrylic drawings enhances this particular telling of an ancient story, and she even includes her recipe for “latkes.”

It seems when she was a young one, it was her job to grate the potato and onions for the recipe, and she offers the remembrance of this quote: “My hands smelled like onions for what seemed like a week.”

Oh, and Jill, you have my sympathy here, as I had many a skinned knuckle as a kid making potato pancakes!

At the back are also directions for the spinning “dreidel” game, with its use of the Hanukkah gelt of “chocolate gold coins,” raisins, nuts and pennies.

I loved Publishers Weekly take on this book when it opined:


 A family-oriented book designed

        to impart traditions.


This is a great read aloud for young  families striving to emphasize why a tradition such as Hanukkah continues its importance in Jewish households today, and the historical perspective of why it is commemorated in many family traditions that are remembered each year – and upheld.


Happy Hanukkah! 


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3. Ready for the winter holidays? [Quiz]

With the most widely-celebrated winter holidays quickly approaching, test your knowledge of the cultural history and traditions that started these festivities. For example, what does Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer have to do with Father Christmas? What are the key principles honored by lighting Kwanzaa candles?

The post Ready for the winter holidays? [Quiz] appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on Ready for the winter holidays? [Quiz] as of 12/9/2015 5:43:00 AM
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4. An Interfaith Look at the Holidays

Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein

By Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer; illustrated by Christine Davenier



The heart wants what it wants –

or else it does not care.


Emily Dickinson



This quote popped into my head after finishing Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein.

It’s probably one of my favorite picture books of this season – though I do have some reservations. More on that to come.

The story centers on the very human and headstrong Rachel intent on the absolute and unequivocal certainty of what she wants.

And what she wants is a taste of Christmas. But, the fly in the poetic ointment of that desire is that Rachel happens to be Jewish.

Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer have written a very realistic take on young Rachel’s determination to share in the traditions and culture of the Christmas season. And here’s why Rachel feels what she feels:




She loved the thousand twinkly lights

that went up in her neighborhood, the               

ginormous tree in the town square, and

the store windows crowded with Santas,        

elves, candy canes, glittery tinsel, and piles of presents wrapped in shiny, beautiful paper.


Rachel is in love with the entire idea of the secular Christmas that inundates our culture each year. Truth be told; no matter what your faith belief, it’s pretty hard to ignore all of this, and, if you’re a kid, nigh on impossible.

I do get that this is part of the point being made here; that, along with the importance of individual faith traditions needing to be respected.

But what I don’t get is the impermeable line in the Christmas snow that is unquestionably drawn for Rachel.

Admittedly, Rachel represents probably a host of many faiths that are not part of the Christmas season. Its secular messages are trumpeted everywhere AND OFTEN this time of year.

They’re pretty hard to ignore, even for Christian families that are trying to coexist with another “reason for the season.”

But our young Rachel is goal oriented, as relates to Christmas getting and giving, and, through a series of clever and elusive plots, endeavors to show that she will not be left behind in the Santa season.

She is a girl on a mission, and her objective is to find a way to be part of it – and she leaves no stone unturned in her pursuit of making Santa aware that she is there and eager to be part of the festivities. Her door is wide open, leave no doubt of it, Mr. Claus!

Patient parental explanations of the traditions of Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah along with all the other wonderful foods, and religious and cultural heritage of her own faith, fall on deaf ears as Rachel ratchets up her quest for Christmas.

So, she resorts to a special ops operation of a sortie to Santa – the Big Man himself – in person! She visits a department store Santa when a neighborhood family invites her along as their guest.

Department store Santas have probably heard it all in the pleas of panicked kiddies in the thrall of Christmas gift getting.

But the look on this Santa as Rachel explains her dilemma is priceless – and so human that you cheer for Rachel’s spirit, tenacity, and her desire to be part of something she so desperately wants.

Rachel is a Christmas decorator nonpareil, as she secretly floods her house Christmas Eve with a flurry of last minute proper welcomes for Santa, all in the trusting hope, he will not pass her by.

She spares no known gesture, big or small, as even the cookies (latkes pressed into service and reimagined with chocolate chips pressed in ) and milk with a note for Santa, are placed with great care.

I am reminded of our Jewish next door neighbors growing up as a kid in New Jersey. Every Christmas, my friend, Sharon, would be invited over to help decorate our Christmas tree. She came, and had, I think, a good time and a peek at another tradition, other than her own.

What never occurred to me was whether she had one of her own, though I did enjoy delicious suppers at her home over time. We enjoyed one another’s homes and hearts that were open to each other.

But, the inevitable happens for Rachel. No Santa and no present. The reader can see it coming a mile away. And your heart breaks a bit, too, for Rachel’s disappointment – for a bit.

Her mom is a pretty sage and practical woman, as she says to her daughter:


              Sometimes, no matter how

              badly we want something

              we want, we just have to accept

              what is.


Those are indeed true and wise words, in the main, but I wonder….

What I do remember from my friend Sharon’s and my secular and faith traditions, was that they were no better, one than the other, just different. And we were the richer for sharing them. We could each be what we were, and not compromise the other person’s belief system, by enjoying, learning and participating in the other.

What was important was our shared friendship and the other 364 days of the year that we played games together, acted in neighborhood plays, laughed as we popped tar bubbles on the street and roller skated on the fast hill that ran past her house.

I guess I am going out on a PC improper limb here, when I choose to opine: Would Rachel be a better or worse person for even a fraction of participation in any of the traditions involved in Christmas? It’s an interesting premise.

And while her family’s meeting at the local restaurant; the only one open on Christmas, involves a communal get together of other non Christmas celebrators of Chinese New Years and Diwali, another festival of lights, as Hanukkah is, it does beg the question.

All of these children: the Rachels,  Aminas, plus young Mike Rashid and Lucy Deng, are all growing up in an incredibly diverse world of religions and cultures.

Would they be better served sharing the richness of who and what we all have in common, as long as it involves a growing respect of what we each hold dear – and a willingness to find out what each tradition means –  to them?

Sometimes kid’s insights are so pure and devoid of any past prologues to their future, that, even if her mom says no, I am rooting a bit for Rachel.

I couldn’t have said it any better than the simple sincerity of Rachel’s letter to Santa as she asks him to allow her to be part of Christmas:


      Dear Santa,

         I live in the brick house on Huntley

      Drive. Yes the one with NO holiday

      decorations. It does have a chimney

      and there will be cookies waiting if you

      come down it.

          I have been really good all year and I

      know that you are a fair person and will

not mind that I am Jewish. After all so

      was Jesus, at least on his mother’s



Check with mom first, Rachel, but you are invited to share a bit of Christmas with us – ANYTIME!  And, just for the record, I will come to Huntley Drive for Hanukkah. Just say the word!

I can’t make latkes, but I sure am willing to learn.

Happy Hanukkah, sweetie! You are one special young woman.

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5. A Hanukkah Holiday that Celebrates Family

The Night Before Hanukkah

By Natasha Wing; illustrated by Amy Wummer


If you haven’t been introduced to Natasha Wing’s “The Night Before..” books, they are worth a look this time of year. They make great primers on a host of subjects. Not only on holidays like Hanukkah and Christmas, but others such as Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and other notable family centered celebrations.

And many other meaningful events in young reader’s lives like Summer Camp, Preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade, Birthdays and, of course, the seminal, “The Night Before Christmas” are part of this “Night Before…” series.

Evenings before special family events are filled with traditional preparations that are familiar to most families, with Ms. Wing finding many main days to celebrate, along  with Amy Wummer, providing illustrations that oddly remind me of the Berenstain Bear books. And I mean that as a compliment!

Modeled after the cadence of Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” this book on Hanukkah starts with a cute opening:


       “Twas the night before

       the eight days of Hanukkah.

       Families were prepping from

       New York to Santa Monica.


Hanukkah is a pretty tough word to rhyme, no? How about “harmonica?” I tried.

The Festival of Lights begins with kids “nestled” in beds, dreaming of chocolate gelt (coins), with an honored, heirloom menorah from great-grandma Claire, placed in the window for eight nights.

And with each night, new family fun is played out and shared, with spinning dreidels, eight days of gifts, delightfully deep fried potato latkes, doughnuts oozing jelly, made by Uncle Dan, and a brisket with gravy, whose celebratory scents fill the family kitchen.

The ancient story of the Jewish heroes, the Maccabees, is retold anew, as the tale of a miracle of a small amount of oil, burning brightly in a cleaned holy temple for eight days.

Natasha Wing continues to hit all the right notes in her poetic tellings of family centered traditions and holidays that emphasize the importance of happenings that are family centered.

In a world desperately in need of something to believe in that lasts, family is a pretty great place to start.



As the last candles burned like they had for eight nights,

we wished a Happy Hanukkah to all – the Festival of Lights! 




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6. Picture Book Roundup - December Holiday edition

Each year, hundreds of new holiday books are printed. Many are trite, forced, or pedantic—but not these gems.  Here are my five new favorites. Readjoice! 

  If you have trouble viewing the slideshow, visit it on Riffle.
Featured books:
  • A Homemade Together Christmas
  • Oskar and the Eight Blessings
  • Me and My Dragon: Christmas Spirit
  • Too Many Toys!
  • Miracle on 133rd Street

0 Comments on Picture Book Roundup - December Holiday edition as of 12/7/2015 7:53:00 AM
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7. 150 Ways to Give a Book

I realize I haven't been posting, but it wouldn't feel like the holidays if I didn't update and share my traditional 150 Ways to Give a Book. They are all MotherReader-approved titles — i.e., Good Books. There are a lot more choices for younger kids, as that’s the group we adults most fear disappointing with giving “only” a book. And picture books are kind of easier to do. After the book and gift selections, I’ve also included ways to wrap a book, and book-themed gifts to include for a variety of ages. There are a few new 2015 titles mixed in with older ones — though there aren’t many classics, as I’ve tried to select books that kids would be less likely to have on their shelves. I've also tried to avoid any branded products, which is surprisingly difficult.

Sometimes I choose the hardback when the paperback is also available, so check if that is important to you. I’ve also linked to the fun extras through Amazon, for example, to save you shopping time, and because I get some small credit for your purchases through the Amazon Associates program. But know that you can find cheaper alternatives for some small things — paints, pens, journals, etc. — at a local discount store. On the other hand, doing all your purchases online and having them sent to your door is priceless.

I'm always looking for new ideas, so leave suggestions in the comments. I hope you'll share this link as you promote giving books as gifts for the holidays and that you find some great ideas for your own friends and family. Enjoy!


  1. Give an experience like a trip to a zoo, aquarium, museum, aviary, arena, or city. Put the passes, tickets, or homemade gift certificate with a relevant book to make it feel more tangible.
  2. Take a road trip with Ask Me so you can use the driving time to ask each other the interesting questions from the book.
  3. Give a book with a movie theater gift card to see the upcoming film.
  4. Give a book with a gift card to rent the movie. Include a box of microwave popcorn.
  5. One Hen - How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference
  6. Give One Hen — How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference with a loan to Kiva or a donation to Heifer International to buy chicks.
  7. Pair any book with another book from the bargain section, maybe something silly or crafty or gimmicky.
  8. Pair a detective book with a magnifying glass.
  9. Match poetry books with word beads or magnetic poetry.
  10. Pair a picture book with a related stuffed animal.
  11. Give an interesting, insightful book with a restaurant gift card and a date to discuss the book together over a meal.
  12. Honor the book enthusiast with necklace along with a new title.
  13. Celebrate writing too with special journals from Tara Books, an independent press based in India.
Picture Books
  1. Learn letters with ABC, Baby Me! board book or The Sleepy Little Alphabet and letter links.
  2. Or work with numbers (and colors) with 10 Hungry Rabbits and magnetic numbers.
  3. Or let them battle it out with 123 vs ABC and bath toys
  4. The Day the Crayons Quit
  5. Give The Day the Crayons Quit and the sequel The Day the Crayons Came Homewith a pack of fat crayons and a stack of copy paper from an office supply store.
  6. Or go with Art and Max or Blue Chicken with a paint set.
  7. Pair Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt and/or The Curious Garden with gardening tools and seeds.
  8. It’s almost dessert when you give The Cow Loves Cookies with a cookie counting game.
  9. What else can go with Extra Yarn but extra yarn? Well, and knitting needles and instructions.
  10. Pair Kite Flying and/or Kite Day with a new kite.
  11. Give Bats at the Ballgame with a bat and ball. You can throw in a coupon book for practice sessions.
  12. Take a light-hearted bedtime book like Goodnight Already! or A Bedtime for Bear and add a night light.
  13. Or choose A Full Moon is Rising or Moonlight with glow-in-the-dark moon and stars — or go high tech with this Moon in my Room.
  14. Giant Dance Party
  15. Get moving with Giant Dance Party with Kids Dance Party CD.
  16. Keep up the music by giving Drum City with an old-time tin drum.
  17. Pair Bubble Trouble with touchable bubbles.
  18. Ballet dancers will love the classic Angelina Ballerina or the slightly edgyVampirina Ballerina (or both) with a fancy tutu or two… two.
  19. Give little superheroes SuperHero ABC along with a superhero cape.
  20. Encourage a future Iron Chef by giving Rainbow Stew or Oscar and the Very Hungry Dragon with a cooking set.
  21. Silliness ensues with Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure and the Pass the Pigs game.
  22. Take it outside with Chalk with 3-D sidewalk chalk.
  23. The Monstore
  24. Pair Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site or Building with Dad with toy construction vehicles.
  25. Give The Monstore with the monster game.
  26. Who can resist that match-up of Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek with Lincoln Logs?
  27. Give your little dragon-lover Have You Seen My Dragon?, Lovabye Dragon or Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood with a cute dragon.
  28. Is there a doctor in the house? There will be with picture book Doctor Ted along with a doctor kit.
  29. Future firefighter instead? Give Fire! Fuego! along with Firefighters A to Z and firefighter gear.
  30. Pair picture book Crafty Chloe with a selection of craft supplies.
  31. What else can go with Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum other than lots of bubble gum.
  32. Cat lovers can enjoy picture books Here Comes Santa Cat, Katie Loves the Kittens, and A Castle Full of Cats with a cat card game.
  33. Here Comes Trouble!
  34. Or let the dogs out with Dogs, Here Comes Trouble!, and If You Give a Dog a Donut and a dog themed game.
  35. Add a car to a child's train set, but include Steam Train, Dream Train or Elisha Cooper's Train.
  36. Nature lovers will enjoy Birdsongs along with a guidebook like Backyard Birds and some binoculars.
  37. For more nature, pair A Butterfly is Patient and/or Butterfly Park with a butterfly garden kit.
  38. Give your favorite girly-girl Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy with dress-up jewelry and/or a fancy poodle.
  39. Give your rough little boy Bad Pirate along with genuine pirate gear.
  40. Another nighttime choice is Goodnight, Little Monster with an Ugly Doll.
  41. Give picture book Flashlight with a special flashlight and a promise for a nighttime walk or two.
  42. Blackout
  43. Or for a different angle with that flashlight, pair with Blackout and prepare for indoor fun with the lights out.
  44. Take fun picture book Fold Me a Poem and pair it with an origami kit.
  45. Picture books A Sick Day for Amos McGee or Panda-monium at Peek Zoo would be perfect with a zoo animal collection or game.
  46. Or head down to the Farm, adding a Lace and Trace Farm Set.
  47. 999 Frogs Wake Up goes nicely with Flingin' Frogs game.
  48. For a western theme, give A Night on the Range or Rodeo Red with a cowboy hat.
  49. Take a special book, like The Lion and the Bird (about a friendship and seeing each other again), and make a recording of you reading it.
  50. Pair Duck and Goose with a bright ball.
  51. Dusk
  52. Celebrate the season with the beautiful Dusk and appropriate lights or decorations.
  53. The funny wordless book Once Upon a Banana is a perfect fit with a stuffed monkey — but show your sense of humor by throwing a banana into the gift bag.
  54. Another wordless book choice is the visually stunning Pool, which begs to be given with googles and a trip to the nearest indoor swimming pool.
  55. Give The Snow Globe Family with a snow globe.
  56. Pair Lilly’s Big Day with dress-up clothes.
  57. Or another dress-up option is the Ladybug Girl books with wings and antennae.
  58. Pair Bubble Bath Pirates with a cool rubber duck.
  59. Give the wonderful The Day the Babies Crawled Away with a baby doll.
  60. Everyone needs Mo Willems’ book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, maybe adding a toy bus.
  61. Pair classic A Bargain For Frances with a tea set.
Early Elementary
    Boy! Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs
  1. Pair a nonfiction book about dinosaurs, like Boy! Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs, with a bunch of plastic ones.
  2. Give Instructions with a book of classic fairy tales, and make time to read them together.
  3. Introduce a folktale with Maneki Neko: the Tale of the Beckoning Cat and giving lucky cat bank.
  4. Pair silly beginning reader book The Monster in the Backpack with a cute backpack (monster additional).
  5. Give beginning reader books Amazing Sharks! and National Geographic Readers: Sharks! and throw in a shark on a stick.
  6. Take to the ice with book choices Katie Kazoo, On Thin Ice and passes to the local ice-skating rink.
  7. Soccer Cats
  8. Give a title from the Soccer Cats series with a soccer ball.
  9. Pair Toys Go Out with a red bouncy ball, or a plush stingray or buffalo.
  10. Pair Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs with a kazoo.
  11. Give early chapter book series books Rainbow Fairies or Flower Fairies with lovely little fairies.
  12. Blooming fashionistas will appreciate Paper Fashions (Klutz) (all thirty-five Amazon reviews gave five stars!) along with Fashion Kitty.
  13. Combine sweet Jenny and the Cat Club with a red scarf (don’t worry if it’s too long — so is Jenny’s) and a black cat.
  1. Satisfy a sweet tooth with The Candymakers with a candy making kit.
  2. Pair Operation YES! with green army men.
  3. Be a hero and give Percy Jackson and the Olympians Boxed Set with Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of the Greek Myths.
  4. Pair fantasy book The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda with a Stars Wars 'Ask the Force' top.
  5. Give What the World Eats with a promise for an international dinner out or in.
  6. Pair Every Soul a Star with The Kids Book of the Night Sky and plan a date to look at the stars together.
  7. For business-minded kids, pair The Lemonade War with a coin counter bank.
  8. Expand the idea of giving with The One and Only Ivan with an adopt-an-animal program at your local zoo.
  9. All the elementary school kids will love The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but you can pair it with tin wind-up toys for extra flair.
  10. Give Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little with um, Stuart Little.
  11. Frankenstein
  12. You can’t go wrong with the funny poems and outstanding art in Frankenstein Takes the Cake along with a cake-baking session, followed by reading the book together. As a matter of fact, throw in Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and make a whole day — and meal — of it.
  13. Speaking of the amazing Adam Rex, give the hilarious book The True Meaning of Smekday with a the related T-shirt Regarding Stickyfish Teams, I Favor the Bigfield Fighting Koobish.
  14. Give Kimchi & Calamari with a promise for a dinner out Korean style, or Italian style, or both.
  15. Wrap up A Crooked Kind of Perfect with excellent toe socks.
  16. Perhaps Fabulous Hair with a collection of hair accessories will make someone smile.
  17. Pair a diary-format book like My Explosive Diary (2nd/3rd grade), Amelia’s Notebook (4th/5th grade), or The Princess Diaries (6th/7th grade) with a journal and fun pens
  18. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck
  19. For a boy, how about the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School with the Do It Yourself Journal?
  20. Have fun with Clarice Bean Spells Trouble and a game of Scrabble.
  21. Pair Phineas MacGuire... Erupts! with a science kit, or the next book in the series, Phineas MacGuire... Gets Slimed! with the slime science kit.
  22. Look to fantastic nonfiction, giving Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon with a homemade coupon for a visit to the Air and Space Museum (okay, this might only work around Washington, D.C.) or astronaut ice cream.
  23. Give a drawing book like Draw 50 Aliens or Draw 50 Animals with a couple of nice sketch pads.
  24. Pair a spy-themed book like Harriet the Spy, Spy School (chapter book) or The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy (nonfiction) with rear-view sunglasses and/or a fingerprint kit.
  25. Bigger girls like stuffed animals, too. How about Hoot with an owl or The World According to Humphrey with a hamster?
  26. Select a magic book and fun magic tricks.
  27. Pair D.I.Y.: Kids with a gift card to a local craft store, and maybe some shopping and crafting time together.
  28. Book of Animal Poetry
  29. Match the book and the movie, like The Spiderwick Chronicles with the DVD.
  30. Pair a theme book like Katie and the Mustang with a horse charm and a satin cord from a craft store.
  31. Or maybe Fairy Realm with a charm bracelet.
  32. Give the first books of The Series of Unfortunate Events with a brass telescope.
  33. Pair The Art Book for Children with watercolor paints or an art set.
  34. Give National Geographic's Book of Animal Poetry, Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart or Poetry Speaks to Children with hot chocolate, a mug, and a gift certificate for time to read it together.

  1. Buy a tween Better Nate Than Ever and/or Jack & Louise: Act 1along with tickets to a show.
  2. Give the companion books Goth Girl Rising and The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl , and throw in How to Draw Comic Book Heroes and Villains.
  3. Pair a book that you and a teen can enjoy with a gift card to Starbucks and a promise to talk about the book over coffee. Some suggestions? Liar, Candor, or The Adoration of Jenna Fox have interesting issues.
  4. Beauty Queens
  5. Give Beauty Queens with a small makeup kit, and a healthy dose of irony.
  6. Rock out with Beige along with a mix CD of the songs in the chapter titles (or an iTunes gift card).
  7. Pair House of Dance with ballroom dance lessons.
  8. Give delicious book
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8. The 2015 Holiday Children’s Book Special

STORY MAKERS Holiday 2015

Many families have traditions including decorating together, cooking a special meal, or wearing themed clothing to celebrate the holidays. Why not start a new holiday tradition of decorating your shelves with festive, heart-warming, and funny holiday or winter-themed children’s books? Choosing the right book to gift a child may seem overwhelming. However, the StoryMakers 2015 Holiday Book Special will help you choose the perfect book — or provide inspiration — for the picture book or middle-grade reader in your life.

Former librarian and StoryMakers host Rocco Staino called on several children’s literature experts to share their top holiday and winter picks. Maria Russo (New York Times Book Review), John Schumacher AKA Mr. Schu (Scholastic), and John A. Sellers (Publishers Weekly) read hundreds of picture books every year, speak with thousands of authors and illustrators, teachers, librarians, and children, so they know what’s hot in kid lit and where adults should set their sights.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what Santa was like as a baby, how a young refugee spends his first holiday in New York City, or if it’s possible to spread the holiday spirit through the scent of a meal, then you should tune in to this very special episode. Trust us, it’s marvelous.


We’ll soon provide time-stamps (in parentheses) for books discussed during this episode of StoryMakers!  Affiliate links are included.

John Schumacher (aka Mr. Schu) is Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic. John is a former K-5 teacher-librarian. He has served on ALSC’s Children and Technology committee, AASL’s Best Websites for Teaching and Learning, two Readers’ Choice award committees, and the School Library Month planning committee. John is most well known for his popular blog, MrSchuReads.com.

John’s Holiday/Winter Titles
Clifford Celebrates Hanukkah by Norman Bridwell (Scholastic Inc.) – Celebrate Hanukkah with Clifford and Emily Elizabeth! Clifford and Emily Elizabeth are celebrating their first Hanukkah. They love hearing the story of Hanukkah, eating “latkes” (fried potato pancakes) and “sufganiyot” (fried jelly donuts), and playing dreidel.

After dinner, Clifford and Emily Elizabeth take a trip into town to see the giant menorah. But when they get there, they discover that one light is broken. It’s too late in the evening to call a handyman, but maybe Clifford is big enough to help save Hanukkah!

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Kids) – Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic—the toys from the beloved chapter books Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party, and Toys Come Home—are back in a glorious full-color picture book, perfect for gift-giving this holiday season. Acclaimed author Emily Jenkins and Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator Paul Zelinsky have created a book destined to become a classic.

Children who have loved listening to the Toys trilogy, as well as those meeting the toys for the very first time, will be thrilled to see Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic venture outdoors to play in the snow. Together the toys build a snowman, make snow angels, and when day is done, head back inside their cozy house and wait for the return of the Little Girl.

Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon and Schuster) – Santa comes to the barnyard in this holiday addition to the award-winning Click, Clack series from the New York Times bestselling and Caldecott winning team who brought you Click, Clack, Moo and Click, Clack, Peep!

Farmer Brown is busy decorating his home in preparation for Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve! All seems calm in the barnyard, but Farmer Brown isn’t the only one who is getting ready …

Once again, Duck has gotten the whole barnyard STUCK in quite a predicament! Will anyone be able to un-stuck Duck and save Christmas?

John’s Gift Book
The Marvels by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press) – Two stand-alone stories—the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose—together create a beguiling narrative puzzle. The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvel is banished from the stage. Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past.


Native New Yorker Maria Russo is the children’s book editor for the New York Times Book Review. After ten years on the West Coast, she returned to New York City and the Times Book Review in 2014. Maria has three children whose ages span the picture book, middle-grade, and YA categories.

Maria’s Holiday/Winter Titles
Marguerite’s Christmas by India Desjardins, illustrated by Pascal Blanchet (Enchanted Lion Books) 
– An old woman makes up her mind to miss Christmas. She prefers to stay home, rather than take the risk of falling or coming down with a cold. She settles into the solitude and isolation of her safe, interior world. But just as she’s about to enjoy a peaceful dinner in front of the TV, her doorbell rings …

Too Many Toys by Heidi Deedman (Candlewick Press) – Ever since Lulu was a little baby, she’s had Jupiter, her cuddly and most-favorite-ever teddy bear. But with each new birthday she gets new toys. And every Christmas she gets even more toys. Lulu’s toys are absolutely everywhere! And now she can’t even fit into her own bed. So Lulu decides to throw a very special party for all her toys—and all her friends. Charming and humorous, here is a story sure to resonate with toy-hungry children and slightly indulgent parents everywhere.

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon and Schuster) – It’s Christmas Eve and Mami has bought a delicious roast for a Christmas feast. But, oh no! It’s too big to fit in the oven. Jose and Papa need to find an oven big enough to cook Mami’s roast. As they walk from door to door through their apartment building, no one seems to be in the Christmas spirit. So they head down the street to find someone willing to help, and only when they do, lo and behold, the scent—itself a magical smell—of dinner begins to spread, and holiday cheer manifests in ways most unexpected.

Sonia Manzano from Sesame Street and two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Marjorie Priceman have cooked up a Christmas tale about how the simplest things—like the tantalizing smell of Christmas dinner and the sharing of it—can become a holiday miracle.

Maria’s Gift Book
 Dear Santa: Children’s Christmas Letters and Wish Lists, 1870-1920 With J. Harmon Flagstone, Compiled by Mary Harrell-Sesniak (Chronicle Books) – This first-ever collection of children’s letters to Santa—written between 1870 and 1920—presents more than 100 charming missives, each one yet more endearing. Along with its vintage charm, timeless sentiments, and non-denominational perspective, this heartwarming book is filled with historical discoveries that will delight everyone who loves this holiday ritual. Dear Santa is a celebration of one of Christmas’s most enduring traditions, and a tribute to the millions of households that keep it alive.


John A. Sellers is the children’s reviews editor at Publishers Weekly. PW gave John his first job in publishing he I moved to New York in 2007. He began his tenure as a part-time assistant in the children’s department. Eventually, he moved on to working in publicity at Vintage/Anchor, an imprint of Random House and at the literary agency Pippin Properties before returning to Publishers Weekly.

John’s Holiday/Winter Titles
Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith (Sterling Children’s Books)
 – The classic song gets a fresh new twist The fun begins when Grandma and Grandpa send invitations to their far-flung, modern, and multiracial family: “Come to our house for the holidays and bring your favorite pie ” Off everyone goes, driving down snowy roads, riding the train, boarding a plane . . . even sailing along in a hot-air balloon. As each family faces an obstacle that delays their trip, they learn that sometimes the most old-fashioned form of transportation works best . . . NEIGH

When Santa Was a Baby by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Genevieve Godbout (Tundra Books/Penguin Random House) – Santa’s parents think their little one is absolutely wonderful, even though he has a booming voice instead of a baby’s gurgle, loves to stand in front of the refrigerator, gives his birthday presents away, trains his hamsters to pull a matchbox sleigh … and has an unusual interest in chimneys. The adorably funny portrait of an oddball kid who fulfills his destiny – and two very proud parents.

Goodnight, Manger by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman (Zonderkidz/Zondervan) – Goodnight, Manger tells the story of Mary and Joseph as they try to lull Jesus to sleep in the noisy stable after his birth. It’s bedtime for Baby Jesus, but who knew a manger could be so loud? Mama, Papa, and all of the animals try to lull the baby to sleep, but between itchy hay, angels’ joyful hosanas, and three kings bearing noisy gifts, it’s just too loud. Until Mama finds a way for everyone to work together to shepherd Baby into peaceful dreams under the twinkling stars. With sweet, rhyming text in the style of Goodnight, Goodnight Construction SiteGoodnight, Manger offers a unique twist on the classic manger tale, deftly weaving together the comforting and familiar routines of bedtime with the special magic and wonder of the manger story.

John’s Gift Book
Happy! by Pharrell Williams (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House) – Nominated for an Academy Award in 2014, “Happy” hit number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and has topped the charts in more than seventy-five countries worldwide. Now Pharrell Williams brings his beloved song to the youngest of readers in photographs of children across cultures celebrating what it means to be happy. All the exuberance of the song pulses from these vibrant photographs of excited, happy kids. This is a picture book full of memorable, precious childhood moments that will move readers, in the same way they were moved by the song.

“Happy” has had the world dancing ever since it first hit the airwaves, and now the irresistibly cheerful tune will come to life on the page with Pharrell Williams’s very first picture book! A keepsake and true classic in the making.


Rocco is the charismatic host of StoryMakers, our interview show. A captivating and important figure in the book community, he is a prominent librarian, a contributing editor at School Library Journal, a contributing writer at The Huffington Post, and the Director of the Empire State Center for the Book, which administers the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. Rocco has interviewed such luminaries as Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Jean Craighead George.

Rocco’s Holiday/Winter Titles
An Invisible Thread: Christmas Story by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, illustrated by Barry Root (Little Simon/Simon and Schuster) – In her New York Times  bestselling book An Invisible Thread, author Laura Schroff tells the remarkable story of her lifelong friendship with a boy named Maurice who she met on the street while he was asking for spare change.

Now, in this sweet picture book, Laura retells the story of the first Christmas that she and Maurice spent together. She shares how Maurice gave her a stuffed white teddy bear with a red heart, the only thing he had that he could truly call his own—to show her how grateful he was for their friendship. This heartwarming tale captures the true meaning of the holidays and will be one you’ll want to share with your family year after year as a reminder that a gift from the heart is always the best present under the tree.

Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Doubleday Books for Young Readers/Random House) – Rachel Rosenstein is determined to celebrate Christmas this year—and the fact that her family is Jewish is not going to stop her. In a series of hilarious and heartwarming mishaps, Rachel writes a letter to Santa explaining her cause, pays him a visit at the mall, and covertly decorates her house on Christmas Eve (right down to latkes for Santa and his reindeer). And while Rachel may wrestle with her culture, customs, and love of sparkly Christmas ornaments, she also comes away with a brighter understanding of her own identity and of the gift of friends and family.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan) – A refugee seeking sanctuary from the horrors of Kristallnacht, Oskar arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he has never met. It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his new home in the north of the city, he experiences the city’s many holiday sights, and encounters its various residents. Each offers Oskar a small act of kindness, welcoming him to the city and helping him on his way to a new life in the new world. This is a heartwarming, timeless picture book.

Rocco’s Gift Book
What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss (Random House Books for Young Readers/Random House) – This never-ever-before-seen picture book by Dr. Seuss about making up one’s mind is the literary equivalent of buried treasure! What happens when a brother and sister visit a pet store to pick a pet? Naturally, they can’t choose just one! The tale captures a classic childhood moment—choosing a pet—and uses it to illuminate a life lesson: that it is hard to make up your mind, but sometimes you just have to do it!


What are some of your top picks for the 2015-2016 holiday season? Let us know in the comments below.


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Host – Rocco Staino
Executive Producer – Julie Gribble
Producer – Kassia Graham

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9. 9 Excellent Jewish Kids Books for Hanukkah Gifts and Beyond

This list of “9 Excellent Jewish Kids Books for Hanukkah Gifts and Beyond” was curated by Bianca Schulze.

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10. Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein, by Amanda Peet | Celebrate Together Prize Pack

Prizes and samples provided by Penguin Random House Children’s Books The Children’s Book Review | November 16, 2015 Come together with friends celebrating different holidays! Enter to win 2 copies of Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein (Penguin Random House Children’s Books, 2015), one to keep, and one to share. One (1) winner receives: Two copies of Dear Santa, Love, Rachel […]

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11. Seasonal spirit in OUP offices across the globe

This holiday season, we asked staff in the Oxford University Press offices around the globe to send in photos of cheer and good spirit the the end of 2014.

And Season’s Greetings from all of us at Oxford University Press…

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12. A holiday food tour

With the holiday season upon us, many of us are busy in our kitchens cooking secret family recipes and the season’s favorite delicacies. Looking at the delicious options in The Oxford Companion to Food, we compiled a list of various holiday specialties and treats from around the world that you may want to incorporate in your next holiday feast.

Speculaas, otherwise known as Christmas biscuits were traditionally baked for St Nicholas’s Eve on 5 December. They are made of wheat flour, butter, sugar, and a mixture of spices in which cinnamon is predominant. The dough is baked in decorative molds. The biscuits are crisp and flattish and may have cut almonds pressed into the underside.

Sufganiyah are a type of doughnut made in Israel for Hanukkah celebrations. Using a yeast-leavened dough they are enriched with milk, eggs, and sugar. After being deep-fried they are filled with jam, often apricot, and rolled in caster sugar.

Oatcakes are made from oats (in the form of oatmeal), salt, water, and sometimes have a little fat added into them. Oatcakes are made for the Scottish celebration, Hogmanay, traditionally the most important holiday of the year in Scotland, celebrating New Year’s Eve.

Oatcakes. Photo by Jon Thomson. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Spiced beef, a type of preserved beef, is an important part of traditional Christmas fare in Ireland. The beef is soaked in brine, brown sugar, juniper berries, and spices which can include black peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, and pimento for any time between three weeks and three months.

Vasilopitta is a traditional Greek New Year bread, also known as St Basil’s bread. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are celebrated more elaborately than Christmas in Greece. The Greek equivalent to Father Christmas is Aghios Vasilis—St Basil—and he arrives on New Year’s Eve when the children receive presents. The vasilopitta occupies a prominent position on the table for the arrival of the New Year.

Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescent), made from a rich pastry type of dough containing almonds and flavored with vanilla or lemon peel is popular in Germany and Central Europe, especially as a Christmas specialty.

Bakewell Pudding, a rich custard of egg yolks, butter, sugar, and flavouring—ratafia (almond) is suggested—poured over a layer of mixed jams an inch thick and baked wasis famous not only in Derbyshire, but in several of northern counties of England, where it is usually served on all holiday occasions. In this form, it bears some resemblance to various cheesecake recipes.

Choerek (or choereg, choereq, churekg etc.—the name has seemingly innumerable transcriptions) means ‘holiday bread’. This is an enriched bread (using sour cream, butter, egg), oven baked, made in a variety of shapes and sizes and flavours in the Caucasus. The most common shape is ‘knotted’ or braided bread, but it also is made in snail shapes in Georgia. Flavourings include aniseed, mahlab (a spice derived from black cherry kernels), vanilla, cinnamon, and grated lemon or orange rind

Dried soba noodles. Photo by FotoosVanRobin. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Chinese practice of eating noodles on special occasions as a symbol of longevity is also found in Japan. A typical example is the custom of eating soba on New Year’s Eve. Soba are thin, buckwheat noodles, light brown in colour. Though it is possible to make soba purely of buckwheat flour (kisoba, or ‘pure soba’), it is common to add some wheat flour to the buckwheat in order to make the dough less crumbly.

Featured image credit: Dinner Table for Christmas by Cam-Fu (camknows). CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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13. Black Israelites and the meaning of Chanukah

The story that most Jewish children learn about the holiday of Chanukah is that it commemorates the Jews’ victory over foreign invaders and their sullying cultural influences. Around 200 B.C.E., Judea was the rope in a tug of war between two stronger powers: the Ptolemic dynasty of Egypt and the Seleucid Empire of Syria. The Seleucids, led by the kings Antiochus III & IV, won when Antiochus invaded Judea in 175 B.C.E. But in 170 B.C.E. the Jews who favored Egypt took control from the camp that favored Syria. According to the Roman historian Flavius Josephus, Antiochus IV invaded Judea a second time, and not only slaughtered many Jews but also defiled the Temple in Jerusalem, offering swine as sacrifice to pagan gods on its altar.

Cue the heroes: the Maccabees (whose name means “Hammer”), the original Mattisyahu, and his seven sons, including Judah. Together they defeated the forces of King Antiochus and cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem of all of its Seleucid-introduced impurities. A small amount of oil that was enough to last for a single day lasted for eight instead, and with this somewhat pedestrian miracle the festival of Chanukah was born.

It was a miracle whose veracity has been questioned since the Middle Ages, and contemporary scholars have complicated the story quite a bit. The real struggle, they tell us, was not so much between Jews and foreign invaders, but a civil war between the Jews who followed Greek ways and those Maccabean Jews who opposed them.

In other words, the story of Chanukah at its heart is a story of a struggle of a small people torn between stronger nations with powerful cultures. We focus on the symbolic act of purification and cleansing, but we tend to obfuscate the larger cultural terrain. Ancient Jews were fighting not just against foreigners but amongst themselves over whose culture to adapt and to what degree. Cultural adaptations came from within, not just from without.

There may have been a military victory over Syria’s army and the Hellenizing Jews, but the Jews of ancient Palestine were already deeply and inextricably linked to the nations and the cultures of their region. That is, they were not just multicultural (of many discrete cultures) or transcultural (crossing cultural borders); they were polycultural. Their cultural diversity already was internalized and they patched their cultures together based on overlapping similarities, not just warring differences.

Barbardian-born Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford, musician, leader of the UNIA choir, rabbi of Beth B’Nai Abraham, and Ethiopian pioneer, from the cover of the UNIA hymnal. Public domain via The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

So too with today’s Black Israelites, people who believe that the ancient Israelites were Black and that contemporary Black people are their descendants. People of many different faiths have been Black Israelites. In the 1890s there was a wave of Black Israelite churches that came out of the Holiness movement. At the turn of the twentieth century, Anglo-Israelite beliefs helped inspire the Pentecostal movement, the most numerous new religious movement of the twentieth century. During the Harlem Renaissance, Black Israelite beliefs became popular among some who practiced forms of rabbinic Judaism, and the following decade the belief took root in Black Islam and in Jamaican Rastafarianism. During the organizing and militancy of the long 1960s the ideology found supporters among patriarchal and macho advocates of Hebrew Israelite faiths. A tiny fragment of the Hebrew Israelites will yell at passersby on New York street corners to this day, and yell at each other in attempts to purify their practice from any of the contamination of rabbinic Judaism.

But what goes unnoticed is that each of these religions continue to this day. Moreover, each of them change, just as the individuals within them change in their religious practice, growing more or less observant, or moving from one group to the other. It helps to think of these religious waves not as groups or sects but as movements — constantly in the process of becoming. Religious changes also happen inter-generationally, not just within the life of individuals. Many of the children of Black Jews have become more, not less religious. Gradually, over time, Black Jews have become more, not less halachic. The followers of the biggest portion of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, one of the original Holiness groups, now believe that their founding prophet only used the word “Christ” as a necessary expedient, and practice their own unique form of Judaism. Their music has been passed down “mouth to ear” for over a  century, and is some of the most beautiful choral music not just among American Jews, but in American music, period.

Black Israelites teach us that cultures are really polycultural. They are formed not by heated battles between warring binaries, but by acts of collage that emphasize overlapping similarities between dozens of inputs, many of which are already internalized within. This is a more helpful view than picturing cultural formation as the resolution of antagonism between holistic and hostile camps coming from without.

Returning to the story of Chanukah, we can understand history better by focusing not on the moment of conquest and purification but on all the cultures that Jews of Josephus’ day shared with their neighbors, just as we can understand American culture today and in the past by understanding how continuous cultural flows have created polycultures and defied efforts to categorize, rank, or purify. I like it that way.

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14. Combining History and Holiday

Hanukkah At Valley Forge

By Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin

With the arrival of the celebration of Hanukkah, I wanted to revisit a special book I have spoken about before; Hanukkah at Valley Forge. In 2007 this book received The Sydney Taylor Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries given in recognition of picture books and also those for teens that authentically reflect the Jewish experience. Here, the book’s vivid watercolor illustrations coupled with Mr. Krensky’s fictionalized retelling of a historically researched anecdote come together for what I think is a powerful picture book.

Stephen Krensky’s book, Hanukkah at Valley Forge, combines history and holiday in an interesting way. The parallels of American and Jewish history intertwine on a bitterly cold winter evening at Valley Forge. Faced with increasing uncertainty and mounting odds, General George Washington meets a Polish immigrant observing the first night of Hanukkah with the lighting of the candles there amidst the fading hope of Washington’s ragtag colonial army.

Common themes of man’s need to hope in the face of increasing despair and the price of liberty’s cause, echo in the meeting of these two men at a pivotal point in our nation’s early history. Some historical accuracy was apparently discovered in the research of the book, and it is left to the reader to wonder if chance meetings sometimes turn the tides of men and war.

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15. Teaching Tolerance This Holiday Season

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate

By Janice Cohn, D.S.W. illustrated by Bill Farnsworth


How do we teach children tolerance? As the holy days of Hanukkah and Christmas approach, held in reverence by the Jewish and Christian faiths, it seems an appropriate time to bring books to the attention of young readers that evoke the “reasons for the season” as the phrase goes.

Such a book is “The Christmas Menorah” by Janice Cohn, D.S.W., with lush, but realistic oil paintings by illustrator Bill Farnsworth.

Based on an actual series of events in Billings, Montana during the holiday season of 1993, it emphasizes the message to children that in order for hatred and intolerance to flourish, good men usually do nothing. But not so in Billings.

A small menorah with 8 candles to be lit for each of the nights of Hanukkah, glows in the bedroom window of Isaac Schnitzer. A rock flies through his window one night, shattering glass and knocking the menorah to the floor.

“Who did it?” and “Why would someone do this”?, questions Isaac. The police are called and Isaac hears his mom say to the police chief who is very concerned about the targeting of Jewish families in Billings, “We’re not taking down the Hanukkah decorations. Being Jewish is who we are – we’e not going to hide it.”

But that is just what Isaac admits to his mom in a very telling moment. The year before kids were bringing Christmas presents into school. Isaac brings in his Hanukkah gifts and at the last minute says, “Uh…I guess I sort of told them that they were Christmas presents.” Will Isaac continue to hide his faith with the menorah incident as a catalyst for his decision this year?

A classmate named Teresa Hanley and family discuss Isaac’s family at dinner and decide to DO something. I love the family discussion that ensues where each of the members and their feelings are taken into account as they reach a decision that involves some risk.

The Henley family display a picture of a menorah in THEIR window during Hanukkah. Neighbors follow suit and Billings’ windows are filled with pictures of menorahs!

How many times do we see dark deeds done under cover of night as people might be too timid or ashamed to do the same thing in the cold light of day. It takes a moment to destroy, but the creation of something of beauty and goodness like tolerance is a process that takes time.

As the menorah lights shone in Billings, begun by ONE family, just so the destructive force of a rock was thrown with one hand. But the community of Billings, lead by a single family’s commitment, said that intolerance for any faith would not stand in their town without some decent folk standing up for tolerance.

Oh, and by the way, Isaac learned a powerful lesson too. He brought his Hanukkah gifts to school that year and announced what they were. Hanukkah presents!!

This is a picture book based on true life events in 1993 that still resonate today in 2014. Our children need to know that darkness cannot extinguish light as long as a single candle burns. And they may just be the young people who can light it in the future.


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16. Holiday traditions from around the world

Here at Oxford University Press, we’re getting ready for the holiday season, and we were inspired by the new, twenty-first edition of the Atlas of the World to explore holiday traditions from around the world, including our 2014 Place of the Year, Scotland. Take a look at the map below to learn and see a little bit about the food, decorations, and other traditions of holiday celebrations taking place around the world at this time of year.

Image credit: Christmas lights on the tree in front of the Capitol Building, Washington, DC by Jonathan McIntosh. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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17. What would you do with a Dreidel that doesn’t Spin ?

It’s nearly Hanukkah time once again and do I have a most magical tale to share with you!

The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin by Martha Seif Simpson and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard is a precious tale which shares an important message of the heart.


Two days before Hanukkah, a peddler goes to the toymakers shop and sells him a beautifully painted wooden dreidel. This particular dreidel comes just in time because the shop keeper had sold his last dreidel.

“Remember,” said the peddler. “That the miracle of Hanukkah cannot be bought. ”

In a strange series of events, two different children bought the dreidel and then returned it the next day insisting the dreidel didn’t spin. How does a dreidel not spin?


Each time the shop keeper refunded the customers money. He himself would try spinning the dreidel and it always spun perfectly with no problems.

Later that same afternoon, a man and a boy came to the shop looking in the windows. They were very poor wearing ill fitted and patch clothing. They had no money but the shopkeeper invited them in any way just to look around. The young boy was delighted in all that he saw and wanted nothing, just the joy of looking at everything.


The shopkeeper was so touched that he gave the boy the beautiful dreidel that wouldn’t spin for the other children. The shopkeeper told him that the dreidel was broken but this very special boy could make it spin. The boy with the golden heart could spin the dreidel. As the dreidel spun and landed it left a special message but I’ve told you enough of the story now. I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.

This book is magically written and the story masterfully told. Durga Yael Benhard’s illustrations are colorful and captivating bringing this tale of the heart to life.

Pssst: Would you like to WIN a copy of “Dreidel?” Starting tomorrow (12-10-14) I will be giving away a copy of this wonderful book along with other lovely Wisdom Tales Press titles! Remember, this giveaway won’t be live until Wednesday, but be sure and stop back to enter to WIN!

Wisdom Tale Press Giveaway

Something To Do

Though I’m not Jewish, I can share that our best friends are and we’ve celebrated Hanukkah with them for years and years. Hanukkah is December 16th-24th this year !!!

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah lasts for eight nights, celebrating a miracle which happened a long time ago.

In 165 BC the Greek Emperor captured the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. A group of brave Jewish warriors known as the Maccabees recaptured the temple. As they were re-dedicating the Jewish Temple, they only had enough olive oil to light the sacred lamp, the menorah, for on day. This little bit of oil ended up lasting for eight days and nights. During Hanukkah a new candle is lit each night for eight nights.

Latkes Recipe


One of our favorite parts of the Hanukkah celebration is our friend Suzie’s Latke party. Latkes are potato pancakes. Here’s her fabulous recipe. Enjoy !!!


1 -1/2 pounds russet potatoes peeled
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons flour (or more)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

In a food processor grate the potatoes. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and transfer potatoes to the sieve. Set sieve over a bowl, twist cheesecloth into a pouch, squeezing out some moisture. Let mixture drain for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pour off liquid from the bowl but leave the white potato starch that settles in the bottom of the bowl.

To that starch add shallots, eggs, flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt and freshly ground pepper. Return drained potatoes to this mixture and toss to combine.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking pan with paper towels. When you are ready to eat, in a large skillet heat 1/4 inch of oil over medium high heat until hot. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of potato mixture and cook for 3 to 4 minutes a side; latkes should be golden and crisp on both sides. Eat right away or keep warm in oven. Serve with applesauce or sour cream or cottage cheese mixed with sour cream.

Dreidels and Chocolate


One of the nights of Hanukkah we head over to the Roseman’s for dinner, and some serious dreidel spinning and geld ( chocolate gold coins) eating.

The dreidel is a four-sided top which has four distinct letters in Hebrew on each side. The object of the game is to spin the dreidel and collect coins or candy depending upon what letter appears after each spin.

Each side of your dreidel will need to have on it one of the following Hebrew letters;

נ (Nun)

ג (Gimel

ה (Hei)

ש (Shin)


You can make your own Dreidel here.



Here’s how to play

Each player starts with some gelt (or money, sweets or counters). Each player puts one coin into the pot in the centre. The players take it in turns to spin the dreidel, following the instructions of the letter which lands facing up.

נ = Nit (Nothing), play passes to next player.

ג = Gants (all), the player takes all of the pot.

ה = Half, the player takes half of the pot.

ש = Put, the player puts all of his coins into the pot.

Play can go either for a set amount of time or until one player has won all of the coins.

Make a Hand Print Menorah

It wouldn’t be the Festival of Lights without a Menorah. Here’s a great way to remember your little ones as they grow and celebrate at the same time. You can find it here.



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18. Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale, by Eric Kimmel (ages 5-9) -- a wonderful new holiday story

My students and I love sharing our favorite holiday stories, and this week we read a new Hanukkah story that's sure to become a favorite. I especially enjoyed our discussion afterward -- this story is rich with feeling and meaning, perfect for reading together.
Simon and the Bear
A Hanukkah Tale
by Eric Kimmel
illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Disney-Hyperion, 2014
Your local library
ages 5-9
Young Simon is bound for America, with just his rucksack, a bit of food his mother packed, and a lot of determination--like many who have left their homes in search of work and opportunity. He's lucky, getting the last ticket on a ship leaving for America.
Simon "managed to get the very last ticket for a ship bound for America."
But Simon's luck ends quickly when his ship strikes an iceberg--ooh, just like the Titanic, many of my students said. After generously giving up his place in a lifeboat, Simon leaps onto the iceberg. When a giant polar bear approaches, Simon shares his food and makes a new friend. Is it a Hanukkah miracle that brings a friendly polar bear to Simon, or is it his caring, generous nature?
"He crept over to the bear and snuggled against her fur."
My students loved the way Eric Kimmel crafts this story. They shared many ideas about how Simon found the strength to endure this hardship. All of them noticed his courage, but they also noticed Simon's empathy, thinking about the man to whom he gave his place on the lifeboat. We talked about how Simon thought about what the polar bear might want, sharing his food with the bear--at school, we talk about this as listening with our ears, eyes and heart.

Eric Kimmel is one of my favorite authors--it would be fascinating to compare Simon to Hershel from Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, a classic holiday story I love to read with students. Is Hershel brave and compassionate in the same way as Simon? If you like peering into how authors come up with their stories, check out Eric Kimmel's blog post he wrote just as he submitted Simon and the Bear to his editor.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Disney-Hyperion. All illustrations are copyright ©Matthew Trueman, 2014, and shared with permission of the publisher. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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19. Hanukkah Books that are Actually for Jewish kids

Hanukkah's coming! And here begins my annual hunt for a Hanukkah book that's written for Jewish children. See, many, many Hanukkah books are actually written for non-Jews, to explain this crazy holiday. Jewish children don't need to be told what a menorah or latke is. They know. They want stories about crazy Hanukkah hijinks and there just aren't that many. (Also, you really don't need *that* many books about the miracle of the oil.) Here are a few of my favorites:

The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Nancy Cote

As the Hanukkah party guest list keeps growing, Rachel's mom keeps sending her next door to borrow more latke ingredients, chairs, and other necessary items. Rachel keeps inviting Mrs. Greenberg to come to the party, but she just won't come! How can Rachel help spread the Hanukkah joy?

The Chanukkah Guest by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Giora Carmi

I love this hilarious tale about a Bubba who thinks she's inviting the rabbi in to eat her latkes, only to discover she's fed them all to a hungry bear! (Sadly out-of-print)

The Ugly Menorah written and illustrated by Marissa Moss

Rachel doesn't understand why her grandmother insists on using her ugly, old menorah. But then grandma tells her how, when she and Rachels recently-passed grandpa were first married, they didn't have money to buy a menorah and so grandpa made the old, ugly, one. (Also sadly out-of-print)

Biscuit's Hanukkah by Alissa Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories

Mostly because I get excited to find a series character who's obligatory holiday book is about Hanukkah, not Christmas.

Which ones would you add?

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20. My Writing and Reading Life: Natasha Wing, Author of The Night Before Hanukkah

Some of Natasha Wing's books have even ended up on bestseller lists, including the wildly popular The Night Before series.

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21. On World Diabetes Day, a guide to managing diabetes during the holidays

The International Diabetes Foundation has marked 14 November as World Diabetes Day, commemorating the date that Frederick Banting and his team first discovered insulin, and the link between it and diabetic symptoms.

As we approach the festive season, a time of year when indulgence and comfort are positively encouraged, keeping track of, or even thinking about blood glucose levels can become a difficult and annoying task. If good diabetic practice relies on building routines suited to the way your blood sugar levels change throughout the day, then the holidays can prove a big disruption to the task of keeping diabetes firmly in the background. With this in mind, take a look at this list of tips, facts, and advice taken from Diabetes by David Matthews, Niki Meston, Pam Dyson, Jenny Shaw, Laurie King, and Aparna Pal to help you stay in control and happy throughout the festive months:

  • Eat regularly. When big occasions cause your portion sizes to increase alarmingly, it’s tempting to skip or put off other meals. But eating large amounts at irregular intervals can cause blood glucose levels to rise significantly. For many, it’s better to snack throughout the day, including some starchy rather than sugary carbohydrates, promoting slow glucose release into the bloodstream.
  • Alternate drinks. Big dinners, big nights, and family days are likely to mean you consume more alcohol than normal. Alternating alcoholic drinks with diet drinks, soda, or mineral water can minimize their effect on blood glucose levels, so you can stay out, and keep up, without worrying.
  • Help your liver. Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, an organ that also helps release glucose into the bloodstream when levels start to drop. After drinking, the liver is busy processing alcohol, so cannot release glucose as effectively. This increases the risk of hypoglycaemia, especially in people who take insulin or sulphonylurea tablets. To combat this risk, try to avoid drinking on an empty stomach, or eat starchy foods when drinking. You may also need to snack before bed if you’re drinking in the evening.
  • Eat more, exercise more. Regular activity can have major benefits on your diabetes, making the insulin you produce or inject work more efficiently. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise will have positive effects, and are excellent ways of giving you a mental boost (though blood glucose levels should be monitored). Many symptoms of hypos are similar to those of exercise, such as hotness, sweating or an increased heart rate. Check blood glucose levels regularly and make necessary adjustments; fruit contains natural sugar and is a healthy way of quickly raising levels.
  • Go for your New Year’s resolution. Losing five to ten percent of your starting weight can have a positive impact on your diabetes, not to mention your overall health. Although exercise and eating well are of course promoted by all as the best way to lose weight, there is no medical consensus on one ideal way to achieve weight loss. The key lies in finding an effective approach that you can maintain. Remember that insulin can slow down weight loss, and if you are trying to lose weight, but find you’re having hypos, you’ll need to adjust your medication. Discuss this with your healthcare team.
  • Check Labels. Sodium isn’t synonymous with salt, but many food manufacturers often list sodium rather than salt content on food packaging. To convert a sodium figure into salt, you need to multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5. (For example: A large 12 inch cheese and tomato pizza provides 3.6 g of sodium. 3.6 multiplied by 2.5 is 9, so, the pizza contains approximately 9g of salt; one and a half times the recommended maximum of 6g.)
  • Don’t worry! Although a good routine is important, occasional lapses shouldn’t have a drastic effect on blood glucose levels (though this varies from person to person). Pick up a healthy routine in the New Year, when you’ll feel most motivated, and stick to it. The World Health Organization estimates over 200 million people will have type 2 diabetes by the year 2015, but (according to the international diabetes foundation) over 70% of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by adopting healthier lifestyles. Healthy living is not just a supplement, but part of the treatment of diabetes.

Heading image: Christmas Eve by Carl Larsson. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. Holiday Bop with "The Hanukkah Hop"

Read It. Move It. Share It. 
With so many holidays to celebrate this month, I chose a holiday book -- The Hanukkah Hop -- for dance educator Maria Hanley to use as part of our monthly collaboration. Because I know Maria teaches many of her classes at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, I thought this would be the perfect book for her to try out in December. When you finish reading this post, you can hop on over to her blog, Maria's Movers, to read how her classes went!

I love that my kindergartner and second grader came home from school this month with projects celebrating so many different holidays. There were holiday word searches, gingerbread houses, a Kwanzaa coloring book, and even a hand-made dreidel!

Bookstores this month were also full of holiday books, including many new ones that were highlighted in a recent article from the Horn Book. If you happen to be looking for Hanukkah books in particular, Margo at The Fourth Musketeer also blogged this month about some of her favorites. I was happy to see The Hanukkah Hop, by Erica Silverman (author) and Steven D'Amico (illustrator), on her list. I bought my copy last year when the book was published, but I did notice that it was on the shelves at the stores again this year.

In the beginning of the book, young Rachel and her family are preparing to host a "Hanukkah Hop" for their extended family -- grandparents, nieces and nephews, great-aunts, second cousins, and friends from near and far. Rachel is getting the streamers ready, Daddy is blowing up balloons, and Mommy is making latkes. As the guests arrive, the party really starts, with plenty of dancing and a traditional Jewish band as a special guest...

The front door opens...
"Yah! Our special guests are here."
And carrying their instruments --
the klezmer band appears!

"Biddy-biddy bim-bom bim-bom bop."
Now we can get stomping at our Hanukkah Hop!"

As the dance party continues, readers will also learn what a menorah is, how to play with dreidels, and the history of Hanukkah -- all to the infectious beat of the text, broken up from time to time by the "biddy biddy him-bom bim-bom bop" refrain. Not all of the rhyme in the book is perfect, but you hardly notice because of the festive nature of the rhythm and of the illustrations, which are full of color, movement, and fine details that will make the book seem fresh on repeat readings.

The book also provides plenty of inspiration for movement. Rachel spins like a dreidel, streamers fall to the ground, balloons pop, and guests wiggle and hop. They also swing, sway, dive, and jump as they enjoy the music of the night. To find out if Maria incorporated any of these elements into her dance classes, you can read her post here.

Near the end of the book, Daddy starts cleaning up dishes, guests start snoozing, and Mommy looks for pillows and blankets to make the sleepy guests more comfortable. And then there is Rachel -- still energized by the music, joy, and spirit of the holiday season and not quite ready to hang up her dancing shoes!

"Biddy-biddy bim-bom bim-bom bop. 
I'm the only one still dancing at our Hanukkah Hop!"

Whether you celebrated Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, or none of the above this month, there's still one holiday left that everyone can celebrate together -- New Year's Eve! Hope you fit some great music and lots of dancing into your evening tonight. Wishing you and yours a wonderful start to the new year. Happy holidays!!

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23. Hanukkah and Christmas: a spiritual interpretation

By Roger S. Gottlieb

Ahhh… the joys of the holiday season in America! A frightening degree of crass commercialism, public rages about the ‘war on Christmas,’ emotionally draining family events, or a soul-graying loneliness when you have no place to go. Food in abundance, but often consumed with a sense that it’s way off of one’s (more healthy) diet; or perhaps a nagging guilt that we in the middle/upper classes have so much more than the approximately 1 billion people who lack access to clean water, adequate food, and health services. We might notice that it is, again, “warmer than usual” — even though ‘warmer than usual’ is the new usual. Overall, there’s the unrelenting message that, of all things, we are supposed to be happy — a more effective recipe for discontent bordering on depression might not be easy to find.

Even though as a Jew some of this doesn’t touch me, a good deal does: from the spectacle to the parties to the social pressure about my mood.

Is there an answer to this? A way out? Well, the major claim of spirituality — defined simply as the attempt to be mindful, accepting, grateful, compassionate, and loving — is that the more one lives by these virtues the better one feels. Spirituality offers a sure path to long-lasting, non-addictive, non-destructive peace of mind, and makes you a lot more fun to be around as well. How would it work this season?

To begin, there are certain quite effective spiritual responses: gratitude for what we do have even if it’s not ideal, compassion on our troublesome family members, tolerance for the consumerist foibles of others and ourselves.

But there’s something else to try as well. What if we read the actual stories that are the basis of both Christmas and Hanukkah from a spiritual perspective? What if we put aside the hoopla, big sales, and parties graced by altogether too much alcohol and asked ourselves if these narratives contain a deep, significant, and quite personal meaning?

One way to read the great religious myths spiritually is to internalize them, understanding the different actors and narratives as aspects of our own selves and our own experience of the world.

Understood this way, what do the birth of Jesus and the Israelite victory over the Syrian Greek occupiers and their own assimilationists have to teach us?

On the most immediate level, there is the simple joy of birth and of rebirth. Taken as a reflection of our own lives, this indicates the permanent possibility that something new and wondrous is always possible. No matter how “poor” (in whatever sense) we are, even if we have to sleep in the stable or our traditions are being erased in favor of new gods, tomorrow a fundamental change for the better may come. In a kind of miracle, reality fundamentally shifts. This may come from the powers of nature as a birth. It may come from a seemingly impossible victory of a marginalized group over an unquestionably more powerful force. But if we stay tuned into the reality of our lives, if we do not turn our back on the permanent chance of transformation, we can trust that what we face now may not last.

As participants in the change, whose courage helps bring it about, and as witnesses to processes such as birth, which draw on mysteries beyond our comprehension, we surely live in a more blessed universe if we are able recognize that such events, even the darkest of times, remain possible. It is not an irrational faith, but realism more powerful than despair, which tells us that we do not know what the future will bring.

In the spiritual appropriation of sacred texts there is always a deeper — and often a darker and more difficult — level. Let us remember that we read the familiar stories of Jesus’ birth and the triumph of the Maccabees against a knowledge of what happens later. Jesus is crucified; the Temple, re-sanctified by Jewish rebels, is a few centuries later destroyed by the Romans. There is a birth, yes, but the birth gives way to a brutal execution; a rebirth to a 2000 year exile.

In this sequence we find the ultimate truth that all mortal realities — each child born, each ethnic tradition preserved or reconstituted — is at best limited and temporary. As persons we are born to die. As humans we are part of cultural groups which are just as mortal.

Each new beginning presages another ending; each joy, a loss. Yet paradoxically, only in the finitude of what we have is the reality of human life truly experienced. And only in that experience is an authentic spiritual joy possible without energy sapping denial, suppression of the truth of mortality, or a necessarily self-destructive clinging to that which inevitably fades.

Have a happy holiday? For sure! But happiness not based in the ego’s attachment to toys, sensual pleasures, or cultural identity. It is, rather, happiness rooted in the simple but spectacular truth that to be here, even for our brief time, is a miracle. As much a miracle as the birth of a Someone who would forgive us our sins, or the triumph of the oppressed over their rulers.

We too can be born, we too can rise up against the parts of ourselves that are oppressive, or the irrational social powers that surround us. We can do it knowing that eventually we will die, and that in all probability oppression will follow any liberation we experience or create, only to make room, hopefully, for more liberation in a cycle that is the analogue of any ecosystem.

If this is a purely earthly spirituality, if heaven and immortal life and the resurrection of the body don’t figure here, well, that is the only kind I personally understand.

Take it for what it’s worth. And have blessed holiday season.

Roger S. Gottlieb is professor of philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, author of editor of seventeen books on religion, environmentalism, ethics, and political theory, and internet presence on Huffington, Patheos, and Tikkun Daily. His new book, Spirituality: What it Is and Why it Matters, has just been published by Oxford University Press.

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Image credit: Christmas shopping xwoman stress. Photo by Maridav, iStockphoto.

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24. Light Winter's Darkness this Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers ~ Happy Poetry Friday!

Jama's hosting Poetry Friday today at Alphabet Soup 
(which is www.jamarattigan.com in case this link doesn't work)
...and if it's at Jama's it's sure to be tasty!

For my last post of 2012, I'm going to break from our series on publishing opportunities (see Esther's last two posts and Carmela's post, with more to come!)...

I've been thinking about my family and our, well, interesting year (especially the part about my husband dying of a heart attack and being brought back and now being completely and miraculously fine); about hard times and hope, about sunrises, candles, glowing kitchen windows at night, and about the dark of winter and the glint of winter sunlight.

 by April Halprin Wayland

On a hard day's chill,
when my heart stands still,
Sun, oh, Sun, where do you disappear?

Then Sun answers me,
answers quietly,
Look around, little girl, I am here, I am here.

© 2012 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

I am Jewish; I just recently learned that the fifth night of Hanukkah (which can be spelled many ways) is the first night in which there are more flames than darkness, more candles lit than unlit, and represents the triumph of light over darkness. 

I love that.

Okay...ready for today's writing workout, Campers?

WRITING WORKOUT: A Light in the Darkness

1) Take a cozy moment to scribble ten ideas triggered by the phrase, "a light in the darkness" or by the 1:06 minute video above.  Jot down memories, images, or the name of someone in particular who helped light your way in a dark time.

2) Consider imitating the rhyme scheme of the poem above:

3) Or write a 100-word story.  

3) Or write forget #2 and #3 and write the poem or story you were meant to write today.

4) Write like a little kid who is so jumpy-excited to get a piece of paper and a pencil she can barely sit still.  Give that little kid a chance; let's see what gift she creates for you this holiday season!

And speaking of gifts, don't forget to enter to win a gift for yourself or for some lucky teacher in your life: an autographed copy of JoAnn Early Macken's, Write a Poem Step by Step. I have her book and it's terrific!  See JoAnn's guest post for details.

Not actually in Southern California where I live, 
but in Phoenix, several years ago.
Still, a pretty note of light and hope 
with which to end the year...

Happy Holidays One and All!

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25. Kosher beers for Hanukkah

By Garrett Oliver

I always knew that my family was a little different, but it wasn’t until my mid-teens that I realized exactly how weird we were. An African-American family living in the suburban greenery of Hollis, Queens, at the outskirts of New York City, we thought little of the fact that my father’s big hobby was hunting game birds. With dogs, no less. Often on horseback. Around the holidays, my Aunt Emma made wonderful chopped liver, and in the springtime, our table was often festooned with matzoh bread. It never occurred to us that these last two items were Jewish food traditions that rarely made forays into our community, and to this day, none of us are sure how they got there.

In a way, I think that this sort of culinary experience is at the heart of being an American, and as I travel the world, it’s one of the things that makes me proud of this country. As I prepare for Hanukkah celebrations with friends, I’m glad to say that beer is very much at the heart of the holiday meals. Some of my friends keep kosher, and many do not, but thankfully most beers are considered “kosher by default” in most parts of the world. Jewish dietary laws, kashrut, is interpreted by local councils of rabbis. In the United States, Canada and Israel, some people only eat foods that are specifically certified as kosher by rabbis, especially around Passover. At my brewery, we actually have some of our beers certified kosher for Passover, and a rabbi comes and blesses the beer!

Unless your own diet is very strict, there are very few beers that would ever cross your table that are off-limits, so you can tuck right into your holiday beer pairings. It’s nice to start off the meal with light, spritzy saisons, the farmhouse ales of Belgium. They’re dry and lively, and often show appetizing peppery and lemony aromatics. Re-fermentation in the bottle gives them a Champagne-like carbonation and texture, which is one reason why we often drink them out of Champagne flutes. Full-flavored beers can work wonders with the classics on the table, especially beef brisket and latkes. Both of these dishes are fatty, a little salty, and typified by caramelized flavors (no wonder we love them!), and beers with caramel and roasted flavors work well here. British and American brown ales are a good place to start, bringing light chocolate, caramel and coffee flavors that harmonize with everything, even sautéed Brussels sprouts. If you want something more complex, go for dark Trappist and abbey ales, where the dark color and caramel flavors come from highly caramelized sugars rather than grains. This translates into dried fruit and raisin-like flavors, along with rum-like flavors that remind me of Cracker Jacks or the burnt surface of a crème brulee.

When it’s time for dessert, beer really does outshine all other beverages. My favorite dessert beer style is imperial stout, a strong dark beer originally made for Catherine the Great. Brewed with large amounts of malts that have been roasted as dark as espresso coffee beans, imperial stouts taste like dark chocolate, coffee and dark fruit, making them a perfect foil for a range of desserts. With chocolate desserts, they play harmony, rowing in with similar flavors. With pastries such as rugelach, the coffee-like character is perfect, and the beer has just enough sweetness to match without becoming cloying. And these beers are a wonder with ice cream too — many people enjoy making ice cream floats with imperial stouts. Just make sure to have a soft-drink version ready for the kids!

The great thing about serving and bringing beer to the holiday table is that it’s fun. Everyone’s had one at some point or another, and though wine is great and has a wide range of flavor, it rarely surprises people. Beer, however, can be very surprising, because it can tastes like almost anything, from lemons and bananas to chocolate and coffee. Some friends and family might even leave your holiday table having discovered something brand new to like, and wouldn’t that be cool? This time of year I can’t help wishing that my Aunt Emma was still here; I’ll bet that Belgian abbey ales would have been great with her chopped liver, but I never learned how to make it. So among the other things you do this Hanukkah, teach the kids how to make your latkes! Though I’ll bet they’re not quite as good as mine.

Garrett Oliver, editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer, is the Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. He has won many awards for his beers, is a frequent judge for international beer competitions, and has made numerous radio and television appearances as a spokesperson for craft brewing.

The Oxford Companion to Beer is the first major reference work to investigate the history and vast scope of beer, featuring more than 1,100 A-Z entries written by 166 of the world’s most prominent beer experts. It is first place winner of the 2012 Gourmand Award for Best in the World in the Beer category, winner of the 2011 André Simon Book Award in the Drinks Category, and shortlisted in Food and Travel for Book of the Year in the Drinks Category. View previous Oxford Companion to Beer blog posts and videos.

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Image credit: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout via Brooklyn Brewery.

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