Those who celebrate Hanukkah will recognize this classic tale of Hershel, the Jewish folk hero, who uses his ingenuity to rescue a town from goblins.
For those of you who have a different faith … this book is still one you’ll want to read and enjoy with your children.
Here are a few of the things I love about this book and why I turn to it to celebrate the holiday season each year.
Trina Schart Hyman’s Illustrations
Perhaps you already know of her work; perhaps this is the first time you are seeing her illustrations.
Whichever it is, Trina Schart Hyman was one of the amazing gifts to the world of children’s literature. How lucky we all are that there was a Trina Schart Hyman in this world. I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend acquiring each and every book she ever illustrated.
Eric Kimmel, the author of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, wrote a heart-warming tribute to Trina in 2020. Give yourself a treat and read “Trina Schart Hyman: Remembering the Iconic Illustrator of “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” on the Jewish Book Council website. It will give you a glimpse of Trina’s personality and take you on a journey behind the scenes of how a picture book comes together.
A Classic Hanukkah Tale
We read this story because it is a classic. We read it because it is a Hanukkah tale.
Classic stories are those that have withstood the test of time. They are award-winners that stay in publication. One of the key reasons to read classics, in my opinion, is because these stories will show up again in other ways. You may see this tale as the foundation of a film, or another story. It’s nice when you know the true source of the tale.
In our family we read this story to better understand Hanukkah; to understand this holiday that is important to our Jewish friends. If your family is Jewish you probably already know this Yiddish tale of the Hershel the trickster.
The Main Character is a Strong Role Model
The main character Hershel embodies so many qualities – whit, determination, bravery, faith, and freedom.
He is faced with a challenge but does not back down. He uses his whits, he stays determined, he is brave in the face of a problem no one else has solved, he holds true to his faith, and he fights for freedom.
All this packaged into a humorous story complete with a few scary goblins! Children will remember this story year-to-year and ask for it to be read aloud again and again.
(By the way, let’s talk about “re-reading” for a moment. I have not had a chance to write about the topic of re-reading books at length yet. I will get to that at some point. While I am here writing about this book I do want to take a moment to say that re-reading books is essential, it is loved by children, it will help your child learn to read, it will help your child find enjoyment in reading, it will bond you with your child. Please re-read books. They are not once-and-done things.)
Get the Book
We found our copy of this book at either a book sale or a consignment shop. I don’t 100% remember. I can tell you that what caught my eye about this book were two things: illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman and the Caldecott Honor Book seal. Either would cause me to take a second look at this book whilst flipping through a box or a shelf of books.
This book makes a wonderful gift for Hanukkah. I also recommend it for children who celebrate the Christmas holiday, as well as a classic tale to have on your bookshelf regardless of the time of year.
For these reasons you may want to purchase a brand new copy, one in pristine condition, to treasure. A special 25th anniversary edition was released in 2014.
Author: Eric Kimmel
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman
Copyright: 1989 (although the text was written earlier, with a copyright of 1985)
Publisher: Holiday House. Note: This story first appeared in Cricket, The Magazine for Children
Awards: A Sydney Taylor Award Honor Book, Caldecott Honor Book
Age Range: Emerging Readers, 4 to 9 years (pre-k to third grade)