Yes, yes, I know that Hanukkah is long over for the year, but I had to share my favorite books of the holiday with students before I could readily tell folks which ones I like best. I am sticking with my favorites, all of which are by the amazing Eric Kimmel who not only writes books of stories from the Jewish tradition, but also has myriad original stories and retellings of folktales from world cultures. Simply stated, any book with Kimmel's name on it is worth a good look and probably belongs in your collection.
For the younger listeners in my group, I prefer The Chanukah Guest which features a hungry and confused bear who drops in on Bubba Brayna when he smells her latkes cooking. Bubba Brayna is a good cook but, as she nears the age of 100, her eyes and ears are failing her. She mistakes the bear for the rabbi. Kids love the confusion as they go through the rituals of the first night of the holiday.
Students in second grade and up invariably request Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins which has a little bit of humor, lots of almost ghastly goblins, and several clever tricks to suit every taste as Hershel works for eight nights to save Hanukkah. Reading it out loud is hard on my voice as I try to make each goblin from the one the size of a horsefly to the gigantic King of the Goblins have a different and appropriate voice.
Storytellers and their listeners delight in The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm. Perhaps you already know how the city of Chelm came to be filled with fools when angels were sent to deliver fools, the wise, the honest, the dishonest, and so forth in even number to every city around the world. Unfortunately for Chelm (but a boon for storytellers), the angel carrying fools, tripped upon approaching the city, filling it full of fools with no room for the more clear headed. This book includes that history plus eight examples of the problems of having a city of fools. There is the story of the pitchfork that is used for a menorah, the young boy who finds something far, far better than chicken fat for frying latkes, and the stranger who rents them a magic spoon for mixing up the best latkes ever. The stories read well and are joy to tell.
Speaking of telling stories, it is one of the joys of my job to listen to the stories that the children tell. I asked them to tell me about Hanukkah. While some of the students told stories that matched very closely what I have been told and read, some were an interesting mix of stories from various holidays, not all of which were Jewish. Locusts, various kings, babies in the rushes and in mangers, and Santa Claus all made guest appearances before we got things narrowed down a bit. I was pleased to see the smiles of those who knew the story from Hebrew School and were so proud to share it. However, my favorite moment may have been when it took a Muslim and a Hindu to give the most accurate description in a class of first grade students.