Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review: Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda

Chanukah Lights Book CoverWhat do you get when you combine the talents of two award-winning people like Michael J. Rosen (author of National Jewish Book Award winning Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas) and Robert Sabuda? Only the most incredible book you’ll ever want for yourself, your family, and for a gift to give to others. I’m talking about “Chanukah Lights” by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda, and published by Candlewick Press. Given that it's a collaboration with Mr. Sabuda, who has created some of the best-selling and ingenious pop-up books, what else could it be but a pop-up book? And what an eye-pleasing pop-up book it is, full of cleverly designed and constructed pops ups, one for each of the eight nights of Chanukah (I might as well adopt this book’s transliteration, even though it’s not my favorite.) I will add the disclaimer that your humble reviewer is a lover of the pop-up book genre.

The authors were clearly troubled by many of the aspects of how Chanukah is observed and the story is told, especially the military aspects. Thus they chose, as did the rabbis of long ago, to focus the centerpiece of the story on light. Unlike the rabbis, who chose to mask their fear of openly celebrating a military victory  of a small minority of Jews over the mighty Syrian Greeks and antagonizing the Romans (and later oppressors) by introducing the story of the miracle of the oil (you mean you didn’t know the rabbis made that up?) Mssrs. Rosen and Sabuda use the concept of the “light” of Chanukah to help illustrate and illuminate eight different times and places in Jewish history and existence where Jewish people have been able to celebrate Chanukah and the story of the single lamp that burned for eight days. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you which places are represented by the beautiful pop-ups. You’ll have to discover that for yourself. I’ll include this quote from the publisher:

“…this stunning collaboration showcases the spirit and resilience of a people in search of a home.”

The pop-ups are stunning, and their pure white color stands out against the subdued colors of the book’s pages. The very last pop-up is a surprise in how it departs from the all-white color scheme, and makes me wish that this technique had been used on at least some of the other pages – although I recognize that it was both nice to save it for a special surprise at the end, and also how difficult and expensive the process of colorizing the pop-up components can be.

If you’re looking for a book that tells the story of Chanukah, whether it’s the concocted rabbinic version, a more historical take, or even the “delayed Sukkot celebration” theory then this is not the book for you. If I have any quibble with the book, it’s pedagogic, in its subtle adherence to perpetuating the story (or should we say myth) of the “miracle of the oil” without any hint or suggestion that this so-called miracle may not have been part of the historical origins of Chanukah – though I can’t blame the authors for side-stepping that potential pitfall.

If, however, you are looking a for a delightful way to celebrate Chanukah, or share the celebration with others, then “Chanukah Lights” may very well be the best solution for Chanukah 5772.

Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda
ISBN 978-0-7636-5533-4
Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA

More about Michael J. Rosen at
More about Robert Sabuda at

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