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Literacy: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

December 6, 2007
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass.

It's time to pull out your recipes for those special Chanukah traditions -- heaping tablespoons of friends, a pinch of shopping for the family, and plenty of candles, latkes and dreidels.

But amidst the whirlwind of celebrating, how do you make Chanukah more meaningful during this season of consumerism?

Harold Grinspoon, philanthropist and founder of the P.J. Library, the nonprofit national year-round Jewish children's book gifting program, offers a simple answer: "There are so many wonderful books about Chanukah -- why not wrap some up for your children?"

"Then read the books together with your kids," suggests Grinspoon. "You'll be putting more quality family time into Chanukah. You may be surprised -- it could create a whole new family tradition, gathering around to hear stories read aloud while the candles glow."

Grinspoon asked the library's book-selection committee to find the children's books that best convey the messages and spirit of Chanukah. Their picks:

· When Mindy Saved Hanukkah by Eric Kimmel (Scholastic) -- Living in New York City's historic Eldridge Street shul is a family of little people, akin to "The Borrowers." When the synagogue's ferocious cat, Antiochus, threatens to ruin the family's Chanukah, Mindy and Grandpa recapitulate the story of the Macabbees to save the holiday. Humorous characters and an engaging story are illustrated with Victorian charm.

· The Only One Club by Jane Naliboff (Flashlight Press) -- This book helps Jewish children who are in a true minority setting understand that everyone is "only one" of something. In a public school during the December holidays, 6-year-old Jennifer rejoices while her class comes together to celebrate each person's uniqueness.

· Runaway Latkes by Leslie Kimelman (Albert Whitman Company) -- In a delightful take-off on "The Gingerbread Boy," three crisp latkes roll out of Rebecca Bloom's frying pan. Off they go -- through the town -- causing everyone to join in the chase, including the rabbi, the cantor and the mayor. There is no serious message here, just a joyful celebration of Chanukah for young children to applaud.

· It's a Miracle! by Stephanie Spinner (Simon & Schuster) -- On each night of the holiday, Grandma Karen tells Owen a bedtime story, all of which remind Owen of people in his family. The characters come alive, and Jewish values are expressed through a felicitous blend of dialogue and illustration. This is a charmingly illustrated modern picture book, with the literary and artistic elements contributing to an outstanding whole.

· Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland (Clarion Books) -- A Chanukah tale of a poor girl in an Eastern European village is rewarded for her generosity by receiving the gift of a magic frying pan. The illustrations are absolutely striking.

· I Have a Little Dreidel by Maxie Baum (Scholastic) -- This illustrated version of the familiar dreidel song cleverly adds new verses detailing a contemporary family's celebration of Chanukah.

· It's Hanukkah by Santiago Cohen (Blue Apple Books) -- The sparkly candles and catchy rhymes make this board book a yummy Chanukah treat for very young readers.

The P.J. Library is a national program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Each month, it gifts age-appropriate Jewish books, free of charge, to families with young children. Since December 2005, it has distributed more than 60,000 books per year.

Now in about 50 Jewish communities, the program is projected to double by the end of 2008.

The book-selection committee is made up of leaders of the Association of Jewish Libraries, early-childhood specialists of Jewish day schools, book editors, synagogue librarians and curriculum developers from throughout the United States.

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