If you’re looking for a precious holiday book, this is definitely the one for you. Hanukkah Bear, written by Eric Kimmel and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, tells the story of an elderly woman named Bubba Brayna who has an unlikely Hanukkah guest – a bear, who smells potato latkes cooking and meanders over to her house. Due to her poor vision, she mistakes him for the rabbi and therefore ends up partaking in all of the Hanukkah traditions with him. She feeds him all of her latkes, plays a dreidel game with him, and gives him a nice handmade scarf. Despite the bear only talking in grunts, Bubba Brayna knows what he means and talks to him all throughout the evening. Once the bear leaves, the real rabbi along with all of Bubba Brayna’s friends show up and she realizes she had been mistaken about the bear’s real identity. Instead of being upset about all of the traditions being done without the real rabbi, Bubba Brayna invites them all to come in and help make more latkes and celebrate.
I love how this book provides a simple explanation and example of what Hanukkah is. I feel like unless people are Jewish they don’t know much about it, which makes this great for a classroom read aloud. Children can be exposed to different winter traditions than they are probably used to. At the very end of the book, the author provides a short description of Hanukkah that is still kid friendly and also a recipe for latkes. I think it would be a great idea to make them and bring them to class for the class to try. I appreciate that the Jewish people are not depicted in a stereotypic way. Bubba Brayna wears more traditional clothing most likely due to her age and the rabbi wears a yamaka, but other than that the rest of the guests wear clothing that any person would wear. I think the artist’s choice to illustrate with acrylic paint was a great idea because it makes the illustrations very bright and warm, which kind of encapsulates the feelings associated with Hanukkah. All of the characters look joyful and content, especially the bear, who at the end is seen cozily sleeping in his den with the scarf. This story really captures the spirit of Hanukkah. I definitely recommend this to children of all ages because I think it is so important for them to be exposed to other religions and customs outside of their own. I know I will now be adding this one to my classroom library list.
– Adrianna Moss