Three Books for Hanukkah
I love December in my classroom (post concert stress) because it means we have a few days or weeks to explore lots of different cultures and traditions. So much of this learning happens through singing songs and playing games. We learn about the tannenbaum, celebrate caroling, sing about the new year, and explore the history of the Nutcracker. Through these songs and games we touch on holidays like Christmas, New Year Day, Las Posadas, St. Nicholas’ Day, and lots more.
One thing I always include in this month of learning is a series of lessons focused around Hanukkah. I’m not Jewish but many of my students are and even if they weren’t I’d still teach lessons that explain the holiday and traditional songs. I put up Hanukkah decorations that I’ve picked up over the years and I teach things like the Dreidel game/song. A big part of this learning is inspired by and centers around children’s books. Here are some of my favorite Hanukkah books with lesson ideas and resources that I use to make them come to life.
The Hanukkah Hop by Erica Silverman
This story has been one of my favorites for several years because it has singable elements and teaches so many different elements of Hanukkah. As Rachel and her parents prepare the house, grandparents, cousins, and friends travel from near and far to sing and tell stories. Together, they will light candles, play games, and eat scrumptious holiday foods… and, of course, dance the Hanukkah Hop. The stamping, the hopping, and the bim-bim-bopping is sure to go on all night!
Through the story we learn about the history of Hanukkah (how did it start), how to play the dreidel game, and find out about some symbols and foods that are associated with Hanukkah. I love that at the end of every few pages I can sing the “biddy biddy bim bom” melody. It feels like the perfect simple introduction to teach kids what’s associated with Hanukkah.
How to use in the classroom? Well, you could easily do the dreidel game/song but the book talks about Klezmer music. Maybe you could show a video like this one about Klezmer music. How easy would it be to teach a bit about the instruments used in a klezmer band and then do a “freeze dance” game which uses klezmer music as the example? Kids learn about the holiday and get to hear some music that might be played at a Hanukkah party!
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz
This book was a no-brainer for me to use because in first grade we sing “I Know and Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly” and then spend moments through the year singing variations and reading books based on this famous song. Here are a few of my favorite variations in book format. In this book a family drives through the snow to visit their beloved bubbe (grandmother), who spreads out a Chanukah supper for everyone to enjoy. But surprise, bubbe goes to take a bite and accidentally swallows a dreidel. That’s then things go off the rails!
Bubbe keeps swallowing more Hanukkah-themed things like oil, latkes, applesauce, gelt — even menorahs! The item list keeps growing and the items themselves get bigger and bigger! Beyond the joy of a Jewish take on this most American of folk songs, the illustrations here offer hilarious parodies of great works of art by da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hopper, Rockwell, Matisse, Picasso, and other masters–adding a whole new layer of humor and culture to the familiar tune.
The book is fun and relatable because kids already know the “Old Lady Who Swallowed” song. They love to see the Hanukkah elements in the book and I take care to point out things that they might have seen before (dreidel, menorah, etc.). This book is also a fun connection with my art teacher since she teaches so many of the artists that are referenced/honored in this book’s artwork. The kids like the song, love the new take, and we make a connection with another subject. Score!
Happy Llamakkah by Laura Gehl
Follow along with the Llama family’s Hanukkah traditions as they light their menorah, spin the dreidel, fry latkes, and more. I love a good dad joke and play on words so I obviously love this book that makes the parallel between Hanukkah and Llamakkah. The illustrations of the little Jewish llamas is adorable and just like the other examples this book does a good job of teaching a bit about what is involved in Hanukkah.
Want to make this even more musical? I’ve been using this with my younger kiddos and making it a call and response. I sing the first few lines of each phrase and kids get to finish by singing the ending. I teach them to sing the “Happy Llamakkah” on solfege where “happy” turns into sol-mi and “llamakkah” turns into mi-re-do. For example, I’ll sing mostly do, mi, and sol through the words “Snow cold and white, window is bright, greetings to write” and the kids get to finish the phrase. By singing “Happy Llamakkah.”
Here are a few more “honorable mentions” that I love and think you might want to explore. Of course there are always more books to enjoy out there but these are just a few that I have encountered and used in the classroom.
What books do you love to use in the classroom for Hanukkah? If you have any other suggestions or thoughts leave them in the comments below for other folks to check out when they have a second. And if you need a few more books for all winter holidays check out this list I started.