Children’s Books: Holidays Every Which Way

3 min read
3 min read

In Elissa Brent Weissman’s cheerful holiday book, “Hannukah Upside Down,” two cousins—one in New York, one in New Zealand—spar over which of their families has the best celebration of Hanukkah. For Noah, living in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s obvious and right that the festival of lights take place during the winter; for Nora, it’s just as plain and appropriate that Hanukkah should happen during the summer, as it does in the Southern Hemisphere. For each of the eight days of Hanukkah, we see the children finding eight grounds for disputation; each night we also see what they have in common. For instance, on the third day Noah may eat pastrami on rye and Nora may have frozen hokeypokey in a cone, but “they both ate potato latkes, warm and crisp and golden brown.” Omer Hoffmann’s exuberant, cartoon-like drawings make it clear to readers ages 3-8 that the rivalry is all in good fun; there’s no question but that the cousins are fond of each other (and at book’s end we see how true that is). Despite their being on “opposite sides of the same small world,” on the last night of Hanukkah, for them everything feels “right side up.”

A proper collection of children’s Christmas books ought to have at least one illustrated version of Clement C. Moore’s 1822 poem “The Night Before Christmas.” All manner of talented artists have taken a crack at this beloved chestnut—Arthur Rackham, Tasha Tudor, Tibor Gergely, Jan Brett—and now Ella Beech takes a turn with “The Night Before Christmas” (Folio Society, 42 pages, $60. In this elegant, slip-cased edition (the box has decorations that glow in the dark), Moore’s verses are unaltered and begin, as ever: “ ’Twas the night before Christmas, / when all through the house . . .” Most illustrators play up the coziness of the tale, what with children all snug in their beds dreaming of sugarplums and suchlike, but the friendly lines and marzipan colors of Ms. Beech’s naif illustrations take coziness to a new level. Young readers will wish they could climb bodily into the pictures to tread on the sleeping family’s soft, colorful carpets and to explore the stockings that St. Nicholas leaves enticingly stuffed when he departs. A pictorial subplot involving the family’s dog and cat add fresh narrative interest to this interpretation of an old, old story.

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