As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
For those unfamiliar with the Jewish faith, this is an excellent introduction to one of its biggest holidays. The most I knew about Hanukkah was from watching the 1959 film, The Diary of Anne Frank. I don’t think the title does it justice (Gertie’s Hanukkah would’ve been a better title and made a lot more sense), but the illustrations worked (as the illustrator said, she kept them rough—like potato latkes); they reminded me a lot of Mercer Mayer’s (of Little Critter fame). These earth-toned sketches fit the impoverished setting (life was hard if you lived in a tenement; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn came to mind, except the family was Irish rather than Jewish).
The title page is nice, but more NYC background throughout the book would’ve been great. I have noticed in many children’s books that maps are sometimes printed inside the covers—I think that should’ve been done in this one, which would’ve added another teaching tool.
The story is simple and relatable—younger girl wants to do what the older girls are doing, which the youngest of any family could relate to. My daughter loved the page where all the girls are cooking—it is something she is quite familiar with. All the illustrations should’ve stuck with a double-page spread layout.
Though this is set in the era of “children are seen not heard,” the mother—who appears authoritarian and much more masculine than her husband—should’ve tried to find something for Gertie to do—telling her child to look at a book or go play, rejecting her when she actually WANTS to help, was not nurturing at all. Children want to feel included, not be exiled. Besides, Gertie can hear her sisters having fun while she is banished to her bedroom as punishment. How was that supposed to make Gertie feel? A lot of things take longer with kids, but when they want to help, let them, because the time will come when they won’t be offering.
But, Gertie’s dad understands and lets her have the job of lighting the menorah (with his help); the picture of him holding Gertie to light the candle was my favorite.
I liked that a glossary was included but rather than putting it in the back, there should’ve been footnotes at the bottom of the page, as flipping back and forth disrupts the story.
The deal with the dad asking Gertie’s pillow and library book where she was was odd—if you’re going to ask an inanimate object, ask a doll or stuffed animal—something with a face.
I’m glad the author just stated that the blessings were done in Hebrew rather than including them. I’ve never liked other languages (other than the occasional word, accompanied with a context clue) embedded in the story as they detract from the story; I often end up skipping over them anyway.
The last picture is heartwarming—I loved looking through their window, watching this large family sit around a table, enjoying a holiday meal. I got the impression that the mother offered Gertie the first latke as a consolation prize/peace offering, which was her way of saying sorry without admitting she was wrong.
All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah is the kind of book I like just enough to read around that time of the year.
Suggested activity: It is interesting to note that many miracles have to do with increase (i.e. making something last longer or increase in number). Whether or not you’re spiritual or religious, show how being thankful can make what you have seem like more than you have, as it takes the focus off what you don’t have. Have your child write down (or say) what they are grateful for—a reverse holiday wish list. You can even make a game of it by making it less serious (e.g. I’m thankful for the letter X because it gets me a lot of points in Scrabble). Watch some of Jimmy Fallon’s “Thank you notes” for ideas.