Three kid-friendly books to light up festival nights

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Struggling to find a children’s gift that’s appropriate for Chanukah? Here’s not one, but three that will do the trick — all brand-new books just out for the holiday.

For a simple, sweet story for young children, try “The Hanukkah Mice” by Steven Kroll.

On the first night of Chanukah, a family of mice clambers upstairs in the Silman house to watch the family say prayers, light candles on the menorah and open gifts.

When young Rachel unwraps the large box just for her, she gasps for joy: a dollhouse! It’s pink with white trim and a blue roof, complete with a wrap-around porch and lace curtains on each window.

The tiny rodents, seated on the couch nearby, heartily approve. “Mitchell, it’s just the right size for us,” observes Mindy Mouse, his sister.

Each night of Chanukah, Rachel receives another accessory for her dollhouse: plush furniture, a dining room table with tiny plates, a bureau for the bedroom, and more.

And every night, the pointy nosed foursome is nearby, watching.

One needn’t be a genius to figure out what happens over the course of the holiday. The dollhouse goes up to Rachel’s room and so do the mice. How Rachel deals with her new roommates gives this adorably illustrated book an endearing twist.

Though geared for ages 4 to 8, “The Hanukkah Mice” is one of those rare children’s books that can bring a smile to the face of almost anyone of any age.

“Jewish Holidays Cookbook” is another top-notch choice. Though not just about Chanukah, there’s a chapter on the holiday, with recipes for potato latkes and applesauce, savory cheese sufganiyot and raspberry ponchik.

In all, 20 holidays plus Shabbat get their due — and then some.

Every chapter begins with an introduction to the holiday and explanation of food traditions and customs from Jewish communities throughout the world.

The recipes are easy to follow and are accompanied by large photos of delicious-looking foods, and smiling children and adults at work in the kitchen. Extra tips offer serving suggestions as well as interesting tidbits of information, such as “knaidlach is the Yiddish word for ‘matzah ball'” and “mandel means ‘almond’ in German.”

Some of the recipes are a cinch. For example, the Israeli salad for Yom Ha’Atzmaut requires chopping only, while the chickpea and couscous salad for Shabbat requires cooking the grain, then adding in the other ingredients.

On the other hand, there are plenty of more challenging options, such as challah, hazelnut tree birthday cake and homemade bagels with cream cheese. Ambitious cooks will want to tackle the roasted chicken with vegetables, baba ghanoush, smoked salmon frittata and other delicacies.

The author, Jill Bloomfield, is resident cook at DK Publishing, the venerable producer of travel guides and other high quality books. Janet Ozur Bass — a rabbi, mother, teacher and “self-proclaimed foodie” — served as consultant. Given the book’s range of Jewish recipes, the thoroughness of information about each holiday, and its interesting factoids, Bloomfield and Ozur Bass should be credited for a job well done.

Add the excellent color photos that fill the book, and you’ve got a winner. “Jewish Holidays Cookbook” is for ages 7 and up — and that could well include adults.

Rounding out the trio of children’s books is “Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig” by Anna Levine.

Jodie lives in Jerusalem and dreams of becoming a respected archaeologist, just like her dad. But her older brothers dampen her hopes, telling her she’s too little and too weak to be an archaeologist. Even her parents put her off. “Maybe when you’re older,” her mom demurs.

But one day, Jodie’s dad indulges her, taking the ponytailed preteen to a nearby dig at the site where Judah Maccabee fought the Syrians. The experience is an eye-opener for Jodie, who gets an unexpected chance to prove her mettle in a dark, musty underground tunnel.

A feel-good book clearly written to send a positive message to young girls, “Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig” has its merits — including the expressive, color illustrations that give the story a lift.

Realistically, though, “Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig” will probably be of somewhat limited appeal, best appreciated by elementary school-age girls.

“The Hanukkah Mice” by Steven Kroll (40 pages, Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, $14.99)

“Jewish Holidays Cookbook” by Jill Colella Bloomfield (128 pages, DK Publishing, $19.95)

“Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig” by Anna Levine (32 pages, Kar Ben Publishing, $7.95 soft

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.