Tundra Telegram: Books That Are Second to Nun

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we address the topics of the (holi)day, and offer some book recommendations we’re kvelling about – books that are anything but drei-dull.

There’s no escaping it; the holidays are right around the corner. Just this coming Sunday evening (December 18) will see the start of Hanukkah, the eight-day celebration to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where Jews rose up against their oppressors during the Maccabean Revolt in the second century BCE. It’s a holiday filled with song, games, menorah lightings, oily foods like latkes and sufganiyot, and books – at least it should be!

From the smallest kinder to readers who had their bar or bat mitzvahs long ago, we’ve got Hanukkah books for every age to read during the Festival of Lights. There might Macca-be one right for you! Chag sameach!

PICTURE BOOKS

Let’s start with the most important part of Hanukkah: the food. Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story by Fran Manushkin and Kris Easle is the story of a stray cat and stray dog (named ‘Applesauce’ and ‘Latke’) who are taken in by the Menash family during a Hanukkah blizzard. The terrible weather dashes their hopes of harvesting apples or potatoes for either of their favorite Hanukkah eats, but the two animal guests may bring with them a brand-new miracle worthy of the holiday.

Likewise, Meet the Latkes by Canadian Alan Silberberg has potato fritters at its center – an entire family of them! Lucy Latke’s family celebrates Hanukkah, which includes a fractured retelling of the holiday legend from Grandpa Latke, who describes how the mighty Mega Bees (?) use a giant dreidel (?!) to fight against the evil alien potatoes.

The power of a good latke propels the plot in Eric A. Kimmel and Mike Wohnoutka’s Hanukkah Bear. Nearsighted Bubby Brayna makes the best latkes in the village. And the scent of her delicious potato pancakes attracts an unexpected visitor the first night of Hanukkah: a bear, wakened from hibernation! Brayna mistakes the lumbering beast for the Rabbi, and invites him in for food and few spins of the dreidel, proving Hanukkah can be enjoyed by everyone.

But if you have a young reader experiencing one of their first Hanukkahs, you may want to start with the reasons for the season. Enter Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights by Bonnie Bader and Joanie Stone. This Big Golden Book not only tells preschoolers how people usually celebrate Hanukkah – from the food eaten, the dreidels spun, and the gifts exchanged – but also why. Young readers will learn all about the destruction of the Temple, the bravery of the Maccabees, and the miracle of a tiny bit of oil that somehow lasted for eight nights.

David Martin and Melissa Sweet’s Hanukkah Lights similarly bring the winter holidays to life for the youngest readers, but on top of the usual traditions, adds a bit of free-form fun, including shadow puppetry (!), singing, and dancing.

Having trouble interesting young kids in the Festival of Lights? No arbet is too big, no quantity of oil too small! The PAW Patrol rushes to the rescue with Happy Hanukkah, Pups! Marshall, Skye, Rubble, and the rest of Ryder’s furry first-responders help their new friends Rachel and Jimmy decorate for a Hanukkah party. Along the way, they also help readers count from one to ten, with objects like dreidels, candles, and snowflakes.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel and Trina Schart Hyman is, by this point, a bonafide holiday classic. Based on a Ukrainian folktale, the book tells the story of folk hero Hershel of Ostropol, who, the first night of Hanukkah, arrives in a village where the villagers are too afraid of goblins haunting the synagogue to light the menorah. It’ll take a little cleverness on Hershel’s part to trick a series of goblins, one night after another, to help the locals truly celebrate the holiday.

Want your Hanukkah celebrations to get medieval? You need The Eight Knights of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman and Galia Bernstein. A kingdom’s Hanukkah celebrations are disrupted by Dreadful the dragon, who is determined to scorch every dreidel and scarf up every sufganiyot. The kingdom must call upon eight special knights to perform deeds of kindness and bravery, in this fun interpretation of the holiday.

You may have noted the lack of a Santa-Claus-esque figure in Hanukkah. Author Arthur A. Levine and illustrator Kevin Hawkes have created an answer to that with The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol, a picture book that introduces a mysterious gift-giver to the Jewish holiday. Set in late 1800s America, it features a miraculous figure who can make anything last as long as it is needed, whether it’s that legendary bit of oil that must stretch for eight nights, a flower that needs to stay fresh to keep someone cheerful, or a small lump of chocolate that grows to treat the entire family. Nate Gadol even teams up with St. Nick, in this Infinity War of holiday picture books.

Speaking of modern legends about Hanukkah, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Richard Ungar’s Yitzi and the Giant Menorah. The Mayor of Lublin sends the people of Chelm a special gift: a giant menorah that they place in the square and gather around for the lighting each night of Hanukkah. The Chelm villagers try to figure out a fitting gift for the Mayor in return, and after multiple attempts, it’s Yitzi who figures out the perfect gift is sometimes . . . song.

There are also a few Hanukkah ditties in All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky, featuring the characters from Sydney Taylor’s classic All-of-a-Kind Family, an immigrant family with five sisters living in New York’s Lower East Side in 1912, as they prepare for Hanukkah. Gertie, the youngest, is not allowed to help prepare the latkes, which bothers her to no end until she realizes – spoiler alert – she has the best job of all: lighting the first candle of the menorah.

A perfect gift for families that celebrate multiple holiday traditions, Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko, features Sadie’s family, who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah! (Watch out, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen.) Young readers can expect golden gelt under the Christmas tree, and candy canes hanging on eight menorah branches in this celebration of modern, blended traditions.

And Hanukkah, Here I Come! by D.J. Steinberg and Sara Palacios features a pile of funny and festival Hanukkah poems. Even better, the book comes with a sheet of Hanukkah stickers. So, if you’ve ever wanted to adorn your laptop or notebook with a menorah sticker, this is the book you need!

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

An epic fantasy adventure inspired by Jewish traditions at Hanukkah? Yes, please. The Golden Dreidel by award-winning fantasy author Ellen Kushner has the adventure you crave, as Sara is gifted an enormous golden dreidel by her Tante Miriam that comes with a caveat: spinning the dreidel will spin literal miracles! So, she must be careful. But what kind of adventure would it be if Sara was careful? In no time at all, she’s spun herself into a dimension full of magical princesses, enigmatic riddles, and terrifying demons.

The only Jewish kid in school gets a new appreciation for the Festival of Lights in Amy Goldman Koss’s How I Saved Hanukkah. Marla Feinstein hates December. While everyone else is decorating trees, she forgets to light the candles on the menorah and stares at a big, plastic dreidel. Marla decides to find out what Hanukkah is really all about – and soon she has made Hanukkah the most happening holiday party in town.

Koss’s book has some genuinely funny moments, but for something to get you rolling with laughter, there’s always Hanukkah Mad Libs, in which young readers can fill in nouns, verbs, and adjectives in 21 Hanukkah-themed stories. The book is sure to be a shamash hit with kids who love funny stuff.

YOUNG ADULT

There aren’t too many YA books with a Hanukkah plot or theme, but an exception is the brand-new bubbly romance Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds. Sixteen-year-old Shira Barbanel has a mission to get a boyfriend over Hanukkah, she’s going to get a boyfriend. She even has a boy in mind – reliable and super-hot Isaac – but she is terrible at flirting. When she gets snowed in with Tyler Nelson, her nemesis and former crush, who is perhaps the most charming boy in school, she offers up a trade: flirting tips for career connections. (I think you can see where this is going.) Check out this holiday rom-com that’s hotter than an oiled pan.

And the anthology It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman, features a number of stories – some of which take place during Hanukkah! In particular, the stories “Jewbacca” by Lance Rubin, about a very secular boy invited to a disastrous Hanukkah dinner by the rabbi’s daughter, and “Some Days You’re the Sidekick; Some Days You’re the Superhero” by Katherine Locke, which tells the story of Gabe, who writes fanfiction of the X-Men as the Maccabees (!), most directly deal with the holiday. If your Hanukkah has Wolverine, count me in!

Midnights Mayhem with Us!

MIDNIGHTS by Taylor Swift is out in the world! While this post was technically written before we got to sing our swifty hearts out at midnight last night, we decided to create a list of books we think will go with each song . . . purely based on *vibes*.

Lavender Haze

Violet Made of Thorns
By Gina Chen
368 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593427538 | Delacorte
Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased – and not always true – divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer – unless Violet does something about it. But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom – all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus. Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom – or doom them all.

Maroon

The Vermilion Emporium
By Jamie Pacton
416 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781682634882 | Peachtree Teen
Release Date: November 1, 2022
On the morning Twain, a lonely boy with a knack for danger, discovers a strand of starlight on the cliffs outside of Severon, a mysterious curiosity shop appears in town. Meanwhile, Quinta, the ordinary daughter of an extraordinary circus performer, chases rumors of the shop, the Vermilion Emporium, desperate for a way to live up to her mother’s magical legacy. When Quinta meets Twain outside of the Emporium, two things happen: One, Quinta is sure she’s infatuated with this starlight boy, who uses his charm to hide his scars. Two, they enter the store and discover a book that teaches them how to weave starlight into lace. Soon, their lace catches the eye of the Casorina, the ruler of Severon. She commissions Quinta and Twain to make her a starlight dress and will reward them handsomely enough to make their dreams come true. However, they can’t sew a dress without more material, and the secret to starlight’s origins has been lost for decades. As Quinta and Twain search the Emporium for answers, though, they discover the secret might not have actually been lost – but destroyed. And likely, for good reason.

Anti-Hero

Hell Followed With Us
By Andrew Joseph White
416 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781682633243 | Peachtree Teen
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him – the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with. But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.  Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s term . . . until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.

Snow on the Beach

Eight Nights of Flirting
By Hannah Reynolds
400 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593349755 | Razorbill
Shira Barbanel has a plan: this Hanukkah, she’s going to get a boyfriend. And she has the perfect candidate in mind – her great-uncle’s assistant, Isaac. He’s reliable, brilliant, and of course, super hot. The only problem? Shira’s an absolute disaster when it comes to flirting. Enter Tyler Nelson, Shira’s nemesis-slash-former-crush. As much as she hates to admit it, Tyler is the most charming and popular guy she knows. Which means he’s the perfect person to teach her how to win Isaac over. When Shira and Tyler get snowed in together at Golden Doors, they strike a deal – flirting lessons for Shira in exchange for career connections for Tyler. But as Shira starts to see the sweet, funny boy beneath Tyler’s playboy exterior, she realizes she actually likes hanging out with him. And that wasn’t part of the plan. Amidst a whirl of snowy adventures, hot chocolate, and candlelight, Shira must learn to trust her heart to discover if the romance she planned is really the one that will make her happiest.

You’re On Your Own, Kid

How to Survive Your Murder
By Danielle Valentine
304 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593352014 | Razorbill
Alice Lawrence is the sole witness in her sister’s murder trial. And in the year since Claire’s death, Alice’s life has completely fallen apart. Her parents have gotten divorced, she’s moved into an apartment that smells like bologna, and she is being forced to face her sister’s killer and a courtroom full of people who doubt what she saw in the corn maze a year prior. Claire was an all-American girl, beautiful and bubbly, and a theater star. Alice was a nerd who dreamed of becoming a forensic pathologist and would rather stay at home to watch her favorite horror movies than party. Despite their differences, they were bonded by sisterhood and were each other’s best friends. Until Claire was taken away from her. On the first day of the murder trial, as Alice prepares to give her testimony, she is knocked out by a Sidney Prescott look-alike in the courthouse bathroom. When she wakes up, it is Halloween night a year earlier, the same day Claire was murdered. Alice has until midnight to save her sister and find the real killer before he claims another victim.

Midnight Rain

A Night to Die For
By Danielle Valentine
288 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593481530 | Underlined
When a boy finds a girl’s body in the ditch on prom night…he becomes the primary suspect in her murder.
Prom dreams. Prom Screams. Mario Woods is looking forward to one normal night before he graduates. He’s spent most of high school riding solo. But when fate lands him a date for prom, he figures this might be his chance to be less of a loner.
Only, prom turns out to be a disaster. Just when Mario thought the night couldn’t get any worse, he sees something on the side of the road while driving home. That something is Prom Queen Maribelle Starr – murdered and left for dead. All Mario wanted was to go to prom…but somehow, he ended up in hell.

Question…?

Secrets So Deep
By Ginny Myers Sain
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593403990 | Razorbill
Twelve years ago, Avril’s mother drowned at Whisper Cove theater, just off the rocky Connecticut coastline. It was ruled an accident, but Avril’s never been totally convinced. Local legend claims that the women in the waves – ghosts from old whaling stories – called her mother into the ocean with their whispering. Because, as they say at Whisper Cove, what the sea wants, the sea will have. While Avril doesn’t believe in ghosts, she knows there are lots of different ways for places, and people, to be haunted. She’s spent the past twelve years trying to make sense of the strange bits and pieces she does remember from the night she lost her mother. Stars falling into the sea. A blinding light. A tight grip on her wrist. The odd sensation of flying. Now, at seventeen, she’s returning to Whisper Cove for the first time, and she might finally unravel the mystery of what really happened. As Avril becomes more involved with camp director Willa and her mysterious son Cole, Whisper Cove reveals itself to her. Distances seem to shift in the strange fog. Echoes of long-past moments bounce off the marsh. And Avril keeps meeting herself – and her dead mother – late at night, at the edge of the ocean. The truth Avril seeks is ready to be discovered. But it will come at a terrible cost.

Vigilante Shit

Aces Wild: A Heist
By Amanda DeWitt
352 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781682634660 | Peachtree Teen
Release Date: September 6, 2022
Some people join chess club, some people play football. Jack Shannon runs a secret blackjack ring in his private school’s basement. What else is the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul supposed to do? Everything starts falling apart when Jack’s mom is arrested for their family’s ties to organized crime. His sister Beth thinks this is the Shannon family’s chance to finally go straight, but Jack knows that something’s not right. His mom was sold out, and he knows by who. Peter Carlevaro: rival casino owner and jilted lover. Gross. Jack hatches a plan to find out what Carlevaro’s holding over his mom’s head, but he can’t do it alone. He recruits his closest friends – the asexual support group he met through fandom forums. Now all he has to do is infiltrate a high-stakes gambling club and dodge dark family secrets, while hopelessly navigating what it means to be in love while asexual. Easy, right?

Bejeweled

Skin of the Sea
By Natasha Bowen
320 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593120941 | Random House BFYR
Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata – a mermaid – collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home. But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi does the unthinkable – she saves his life, going against an ancient decree. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy it. To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But all is not as it seems. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail. . . . Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she doesn’t, then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

Labyrinth

Hotel Magnifique
By Emily J. Taylor
400 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593404515 | Razorbill
All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town. The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel – appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets. With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa – and the other staff – from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.

Karma

Flirting With Fate
By J. C. Cervantes
384 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593404454 | Razorbill
Ava Granados will never forgive herself for being late to her beloved nana’s deathbed. But due to a flash flood that left Ava in a fender bender with a mysterious boy, she missed her grandmother’s mystical blessing – one that has been passed between the women of her family upon death for generations. Then Nana’s ghost appears with a challenge from beyond the grave. As it turns out, Nana did give Ava a blessing, but it missed its target, landing with the boy from the night of the storm instead. Was it fate? Ava refuses to believe so. With the help of her sisters and Nana’s rather bumbling spiritual guide, she’s determined to reclaim her share of the family magic and set Nana free. For guarded Ava, befriending some random boy is the last thing she wants to do. She’s gotten along just fine protecting her heart – keeping people at a distance is a great way to ensure no one ever hurts you. But as Ava embarks on her mission to retrieve the lost blessing, she starts to wonder if getting close to thunderstorm boy is worth the risk.

Sweet Nothing

So, This Is Love
By Tracy Andreen
368 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593525401 | Viking BFYR
Finley and Arthur are back at boarding school and neither quite knows where the other stands – are they couple? Are they not a couple? What does one magical Christmas Eve kiss in Oklahoma mean for their relationship status? This confusion isn’t helped by the re-entry of old enemies into their school lives, especially ones that may or may not be crushing on Arthur. Finley is at a loss when navigating the complexities of her new (maybe) relationship, which could very well turn into love. . . if she doesn’t blow it. So, This Is Love is a perfect read for the Valentine’s Day season, or for anyone looking for a delightful romantic comedy that has just a dash of drama. Once again, Tracy Andreen has proven that no one writes a holiday rom-com like her.

Mastermind

Family of Liars
By E. Lockhart
320 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593485859 | Delacorte Press
The thrilling prequel to the TikTok phenomenon and New York Times bestseller We Were Liars takes readers back to the story of another summer, another generation, and the secrets that will haunt them for decades to come.
A windswept private island off the coast of Massachusetts.
A hungry ocean, churning with secrets and sorrow.
A fiery, addicted heiress. An irresistible, unpredictable boy.
A summer of unforgivable betrayal and terrible mistakes.
Welcome back to the Sinclair family.
They were always liars . . . .