11 December 2011

Finding the Joy

Isaac turned in his Hanukkah research project last week.  He had to write out two facts about the holiday and draw a picture.  He also has to be able to read his facts to his class and explain the holiday.  We read a few Hanukkah books to prepare.  Some were full of facts, some were way too schmaltzy, and one or two were just for fun.

The problem I have found with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books is that the authors feel the pressure to teach the traditions of the holidays rather than just write a fun story, whereas Christmas books can be about Santa and not much else because the traditions surrounding the Christian holiday dominate our culture.  Many of the "other" holiday books either simply build a story around the holiday's traditions or are painfully didactic, hammering home the moral lessons so people unfamiliar with the traditions will have a better understanding.

The Hanukkah Hop by Erica Silverman was one of the few that we read that was mostly just for fun.  I know that Hanukkah is supposed to be a happy holiday, but this is the first book that I have read that left me with a feeling of celebration and joy.  It was about a family gathering for a party during the holiday, written in a jazzy rhyme.  It mentioned dreidels and latkes and menorahs, but it was fun to read and it made the holiday look fun to celebrate.  It was a much better literary ambassador for Hanukkah than yet another book cataloging how and when the candles are lit and what the Jews will be eating throughout it all.

I am glad Isaac had to learn about Hanukkah.  I hope he remembers some of what we read.  I make a point of teaching my students about all of the December holidays each year, emphasizing their similarities and overlapping traditions.  I hope that we see more books like The Hanukkah Hop written for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.  We can go to dry non-fiction books to get the outline of the traditions, but the joy comes across best when the reader has as much fun reading the story as the author had writing it.

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