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Heartwarming reads for chilly nights

The perfect Chanukah reads for children

    When heavy snow falls, thoughtful Monty Nudelman get shovelling and clears his neighbours’ paths. But just as he finishes, his back gives way. He has to miss Saturday-morning synagogue — but all the people he has helped want to show him some kindness in return and all have the same idea — to bring him a container of cholent. Not only is Michael Herman’s The Cholent Brigade (Kar Ben, £5.99) a heartwarming story about one good deed deserving another, it also portrays, through Sharon Harmer’s illustrations, a diverse Jewish population. Age three to seven.

    The Cholent Brigade by Michael Herman
    The Cholent Brigade by Michael Herman
    It is night in the dreidl workshop and the Hebrew letters (drawn by Iryna Bodnaruk as big-eyed creatures, similar to clothed baby hedgehogs) are having a debate — except for the gimmels, who are sleeping sweetly in their tray). The other letters are upset that everybody wants their dreidls to land on the winning letter gimmel. They decide to hide the gimmels, so the dreidl makers will have to manufacture the spinning tops without them.

    When The Missing Letters (by Renée Londner, Kar-Ben, £5.99) are discovered, the makers are shocked — and recall how playing dreidl saved the original Maccabees, as they used them as a diversion to conceal their Torah studies from the Romans (nicely incorporating an educational episode). Will the other letters release the gimmels? Age three to seven.

    Introduce young readers to Chelm, the traditional village of fools, with Way Too Many Latkes, a Hanukkah in Chelm by Linda Glaser (appetisingly illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic, Kar-Ben, £6.50). Faigel is making latkes but she cannot remember the recipe. Some careless advice from the rabbi leads her to use every potato, egg and onion she possesses — resulting in a mountain of latkes and a puzzle about how to eat them all up. The joke in this story is built up by repeated fool’s errands, as Faigel sends her husband for advice one ingredient at a time. Children up to age nine will enjoy the escalating latke complications.

    Bah! Humbug! (Scholastic, £10.99) is Michael Rosen’s response to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

    Harry Gruber is playing the lead role in his school’s production and he hopes by doing so to warm the work-obsessed heart of his father, Ray — if he can keep him out of the office for the length of the performance. In the audience is Harry’s disabled sister, Eva, a counterpart to Tiny Tim in the play.

    Portions of the script are intercut with the story of Ray, who sneaks out to go to work and confronts three ghosts from his own life.

    Despite the child appeal of Tony Ross’s illustrations and the book’s uncomplicated language, the narrative structure and the unhappy-family content make the story quite a demanding read, perhaps more suitable for age 11 to 14 than for younger readers.

    Prudy and Her Secret Friend by H.V. Baron Cohen (Austin Macauley, £7.99) was first told to the Baron Cohen children as a bedtime story and is ideal to share in this way. Super-smiley Prudy, whose name may not quite roll off the tongue of modern children, has gentle, unscary adventures with her imaginary friend, Suzy, such as building a snowman and meeting Cyril the squirrel. Prudy also likes to sing — the music for her songs is included in the book.

    Towards the end of the story, she enthusiastically welcomes an adopted brother, so the book would particularly suit families wanting to introduce this idea to young children. Age three to eight, with drawings by the author.

    Buy the books here:

    The Cholent Brigade

    Bah! Humbug!: Every Christmas Needs a Little Scrooge

    Prudy and Her Secret Friend

    The Missing Letters: A Dreidel Story

    Way Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm

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