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Celebrate December: Books About Hanukkah and Kwanzaa for Elementary 

Share Two new books that belong in every elementary school library teach about the history, traditions, and vocabulary of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.



Hanukkah CoverWhen Mindy Saved Hanukkah is a delightful new book from the pen of Eric A. Kimmel (author of the Caldecott Honor Book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins). Part heroic adventure and part history lesson, When Mindy Saved Hanukkah introduces readers to the Klein family, a Borrowers-like family that resides inside the walls of an historic synagogue. When a "fierce Antiochus of a cat" foils Papa's attempt to land a large candle -- from which he plans to fashion nine smaller candles for the family's menorah -- what is the family to do?

One of the young Klein's -- Mindy -- has a plan. The other family members bestow good luck charms on the little girl, and Mindy is off! She climbs through a crack at the bottom of the wall and slips into the sanctuary.


Barbara McClintock's black ink and watercolor illustration of the sanctuary is a breathtaking tribute to the exquisite Eldridge Street Synagogue on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The synagogue has been a source of pride to generations of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Step-by-step, with care not to rouse the synagogue's mouse-eating cat, Mindy makes her way to the door of the ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept. Predictably, the cat suddenly pounces on pint-size Mindy! But Zayde (grandfather), holding a bottle-cap shield and wearing a thimble for a helmet, is there to help out -- Maccabee to the cat's Antiochus -- and the family celebration is saved!

Kimmel provides a glossary that offers young readers the definitions of unfamiliar terms. Defined are names from Jewish history, such as Antiochus and Maccabee, and terms associated with Hanukkah and the Jewish heritage (for example, ark, dreidel, herring, lulav, menorah, Torah, and yad).

McClintock's illustrations blend perfectly with Kimmel's delightful story. Kids will enjoy the illustrations, especially the scene where the family is safely "home," with the candle in their possession. Peering through the crack in the wall lurks the defeated cat, its eye nearly as large as the miniature Klein family members!

Elementary-age students will be charmed by When Mindy Saved Hanukkah's entertaining storyline, its beautiful illustrations, and its "You don't have to be young to be mighty" lesson. And while they're at it, they'll learn a little history and an appreciation for the traditions of Hanukkah. The book is a great addition to any classroom study of December's rich, multicultural celebrations!



Kwanzaa Cover In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga introduced to the United States a new holiday. That holiday, Kwanzaa (from the Swahili word for "first fruits"), had its origins in the harvest celebrations that have been held throughout Africa for centuries. Many of those celebrations last for seven days, thus the seven days of Kwanzaa, the seven principles at the heart of Kwanzaa, and the seven candles on the Kwanzaa kinara (wooden candle holder).

In Seven Candles for Kwanzaa -- now available in paperback for the first time -- author Andrea Davis Pinkney shares with readers the traditions and meanings of this distinctly American holiday. Readers learn about the holiday's origins and about some traditional Kwanzaa gifts. They learn the significance and special meaning of each day as they join an African-American family's Kwanzaa celebration. On the first day, the family gathers at home and shares thoughts and feelings about the Kwanzaa holiday.


"On the second day of Kwanzaa a red candle is lit to represent kujichagulia (koo-jee-cha-goo-lee-ah), which means self-determination. This is the day to learn traditions that help us define ourselves. In some families, women teach girls to braid their own hair in fancy styles. In others, folks learn to beat African rhythms on drums and gourds."

On the third day, families work together to do a family chore. On the fourth day, the family pools money to buy a family gift that everyone can share (such as a clock that chimes) And so Pinkney explains the family-oriented activities of each Kwanzaa day, always providing examples that bring home to readers the spirit and special meaning of the day.

Brian Pinkney's scratchboard illustrations, with borders of traditional African patterns, mirror the emphasis of the text. The illustrations resonate with family warmth and activity.

When Mindy Saved Hanukkah (written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Barbara McClintock) and Seven Candles for Kwanzaa (written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney) are available in bookstores everywhere. If you are unable to locate a copy of either book, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher. When Mindy Saved Hanukkah is published by Scholastic Press, 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012. Seven Candles for Kwanzaa is published in paperback in 1998 (hardcover also available) by Picture Puffin, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World


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