Holiday Read Alouds, Part 1: Lighting the Candles

In the classroom, I feel that each holiday comes with its own tipping point, its own ticking clock.  Acknowledge the holiday too early and you risk spinning the whole class into chaos for days (joyful chaos, but still).  Fail to acknowledge the holiday and the underground excitement will eventually explode.  Finding that tipping point is a careful operation.  October 30 – business as usual.  October 31 – Halloween math, Halloween read alouds, Halloween poetry …

When it comes to the winter holiday season, that tipping point is even more ticklish.  I find that it is right around this time, a week or two into December, when the tide becomes too strong to deny.  Reports on last night’s Hanukkah gifts, discussions of advent calendars, and the humming …oh, the humming.  “Jingle Bells.”  “Here Comes Santa Claus.”  It’s official: the holidays are coming.

My very favorite way to (calmly) acknowledge the coming of the season is through read alouds.  I’ll be kicking off my yearly Holiday Read Alouds this week in the classroom and sharing some of the ones I love in my next few blog posts.  There’s always room on the read aloud schedule for a few more, so feel free to share some of your favorites through the comments section.

With Hanukkah beginning this past weekend, I’ll be starting this year with one of my favorite picture books about the holiday: Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (written by Eric A. Kimmel, pictures by Trina Schart Hyman).  Hershel is a traveler who is glad to find a friendly village for the first night of Hanukkah, but the villagers reveal that they are plagued by goblins that hate Hanukkah and stop them from celebrating.  Hershel volunteers to spend each night of Hanukkah in the synagogue to see if he can outwit a series of goblins.  In order to banish the goblins forever, he’ll have to arrange for the king of the goblins himself to light the Hanukkah candles on the last night of the holiday.

The 1996 Hanukkah USA 32 cents stamp

The 1996 Hanukkah USA 32 cents stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This book is an absolutely lovely way to bring this holiday to life for children.  The story is genuinely exciting, and Hanukkah traditions are woven into the narrative in a way that allows children who celebrate this holiday to share their own experiences.  The overall message is a positive spin on a traditional trickster tale: Hershel overcomes the goblins by using his wits and his bravery.  The cast of goblins offers lots of opportunities for silly, dramatic voices.  For me, perhaps the most appealing part of the book is the illustrations.  I’ve always loved Trina Schart Hyman’s work – she manages to straddle the line between cartoonish personality and detailed realism, a style I find particularly effective in her folk tales and fairy tales.  Here the goblins are dramatic but silly, and the king of the goblins is scary without being gory or graphic.  Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins makes a wonderful addition to any holiday library, whether you celebrate Hanukkah in your home or not.  Stay tuned next week for more holiday picks, and happy reading!


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