At a loss for kid gifts? Area Judaica shops offer many choices

On a recent weekday morning, Berkeley’s Afikomen Judaica employees were eagerly awaiting their next shipment in time for Chanukah, so they could restock one of their best-selling kids’ books, “Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat.”

When local Judaica store owners are asked to recommend Chanukah children’s gifts, the answer is almost unanimous: books.

No worries. “Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat” — a magical story by Naomi Howland about a little girl who receives a frying pan that cooks up sizzling hot, golden latkes on command — will certainly be on Afikomen Judaica’s shelves for Chanukah shopping.

It’s never too early to instill a love of reading in your child, and there’s a multitude of books out there — even for the little ones.

“We’ve got Chanukah!” says Eva-Lynne Leibman, co-owner of Dayenu in San Francisco.

For infants to age 3, she and other retailers at local Judaica stores highly recommend board books, such as the popular “My First” series by DK Publishing. For a start, try “My First Shabbat Board Book” and “My First Hanukkah Board Book.”

The all-time favorite children’s book for Ellen Bob, co-owner of Palo Alto’s bob and bob, is “Celebrate Hanukkah with Lights, Latkes and Dreidels Book.” National Geographic illustrates the joyous celebrations of Jewish people around the world — including Ghana, Uganda, India, Israel and Peru. It includes stories such as that of U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, who brought a menorah and a dreidel on his Space Shuttle mission in 1993.

“It’s a really great book for kids to bring to school,” says Bob. “It shows there are Jews everywhere.”

A favorite of Afikomen Judaica’s employee Helen-Anne Mertsching is “Hanukkah A Counting Book” (ages 3 and up), in which children count each night of the Festival of Lights in English, Hebrew and Yiddish, with colorful die-cut candles and symbols that explain the story of Chanukah.

For the very young, Nurit Sabadorsh, owner of Alef Bet Judaica in Los Gatos, proudly displays hand-painted baby onesies with Chanukah designs.

Of course, toys are always a hit with any kid.

The “Happy Chanukah Jack in the Box” is popular with the younger set; it plays “The Dreidel Song” as you turn the handle.

Mertsching gets a kick out of “Dreidel Out of Clay,” a new dreidel-making kit that’s just like the song. “I have a little dreidel … I MADE IT OUT OF CLAY … and when it’s dry and ready … dreidel I shall play!”

A hit at Dayenu is Kosher Land, for ages 4 to 7, which is “just like Candyland,” according to Leibman. Be the first player to get back to the kosher home, by moving pieces up and following directions, which may include saying prayers.

Jerry Derblich, owner of Afikomen, recommends any one of his annual best-selling Chanukah musical collections, such as “All About Hanukkah” — or “Hanukah Sing Along,” with tunes in both Hebrew (“Y’me Hananukah,” “Ma’oz Tsur”) and English (“Shine Little Candles”).

Dayenu’s Leibman says that all ages love Paul Zim, a popular Jewish recording artist with over 25 releases to his credit.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with any number of puzzles, dreidels and cookie cutters that local Judaica stores carry. Dayenu’s Leibman is especially tickled by her store’s Russian Stacking Doll Dreidel, which comes in the shape of a Russian matryoshka, with nesting wooden dreidels.

But how about those teenagers?

Sabadorsh, of Alef Bet Judaica in Los Gatos, says pre-teens love jewelry and art kits.

Ellen Bob, suggests “the goofy Chanukah novelties, like windup walking dreidels.”

Dayenu carries “Chai” Maintenance T-shirts, as well as the ever-popular Jewish Fashion Conspiracy-wear from the Bay Area’s own Sarah Lefton. The shirt that started it all: “Yo, Semite!” is still all the rage.

And this year’s hit? “Happy Madonnakah” shirts.