Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review - Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book

Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book
by Laura Krauss Melmed
illustrated by Elisabeth Schlossberg
Date: 2010
Publisher: Chronicle Books (CA)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Moishe's Miracle author Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrator Elisabeth Schlossberg celebrate Hanukkah in joyful action rhymes, festive poems, and exuberant scenes of family life. From traditional holiday foods to the story of the Maccabees, they capture the warm sights, sounds, and tastes of this wintertime festival.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This December, I'm going to try to read one holiday-themed book a day. Since Hanukkah is earlier in the month this year, I decided to start with this book.

I'm not Jewish, so I wasn't familiar with all the traditions and stories that go along with this holiday. I'd hoped to learn a little more about Hanukkah, and I did... though not from the text of the book itself. I think that may be this book's biggest weakness: the actual rhyming text assumes knowledge of the holiday, making it mainly suitable for Jewish children. Things such as the story about Judah Maccabee and dreidel games were mentioned, but not expanded upon in the poems, and as I was reading, I was thinking, "Well, that's not very helpful. Why is the story about Judah Maccabee important to Jews? How do you play with a dreidel?" (These things are all explained in the back of the book in an author's note, but I would've rather seen them incorporated into the main text of the book; I don't know if many kids listening to storytime are going to stick around to listen to the dry, scholarly notes at the end.)

The format of the book was much like another picture book I read recently called Noisy Poems for a Busy Day (which I wasn't crazy about, either). The "story" is told through myriad short, titled poems. In this case, the meter was questionable, and I think the format made the book suffer a little. Trying to force all these ideas into rhyme is limiting (plus, you tend to end up with "poems" like the one that was basically chanting a repeat of "applesauce, applesauce"; I mean, applesauce is fine, but I kind of wanted to not hear about it ever again after that particular poem).

The illustrations were really underwhelming for me. They're colourful and kids might like them, but they seemed kind of simple and amateurish.

I did learn a few things about Hanukkah that I didn't know before. Unfortunately, they were from the author's note at the end; in other words, I could've skipped reading the main text of the book and learned the same thing from the note or from an article about Hanukkah. So this book might have more appeal to Jewish children, who can see their traditions reflected on the pages; it doesn't really work that well as a way to teach non-Jewish people about the holiday.

Premise: 2/5
Meter: 3/5
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

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