Diverse KidLit: Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles (December 2016)

diverse kidlit

In 2016, I set a goal to read more diversely both to myself and aloud to my kids.  As this year has unfolded, celebrating our differences has become more important than ever.  2016 has brought unspeakable tragedies born out of hate and ignorance – and the best way I know to fight those evils is to read books celebrating love and diversity.  This month’s diverse kidlit choice is Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles, by Tami Lehman-Wilzig.

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Jacob loves Hanukkah.  He loves the stories and the rituals, and he loves sharing delicious food – especially jelly doughnuts! – with his family as they celebrate the Festival of Lights.  There’s just one problem.

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Jacob’s brother, Nathan, is the problem.  Nathan keeps repeating himself, which drives Jacob crazy.

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Nathan is autistic – and while Jacob tries hard to be understanding, it can be tough living with Nathan at times.  Still, Jacob is determined not to let Nathan ruin his Hanukkah.  He helps his mom set up their family Menorah, imagining himself into the old Hebrew tales and sending up a Hanukkah wish that Nathan will stop repeating himself.  Then one day…

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A new family arrives next door, and they have a son – Steven – who is just Jacob’s age.  Steven and Jacob hit it off right away and spend hours “shooting hoops” together.  But when Jacob’s mom decides to invite Steven and his family over to help them celebrate Hanukkah, Jacob worries.  Is Nathan going to embarrass him?

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Yup.

As Steven’s family watches, Nathan does the unthinkable – he blows out the Menorah as if it’s a birthday cake!  Jacob basically wants to sink through the floor.

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Things get worse when Jacob goes out to play with Steven the following day.  Steven laughs and cruelly mocks Nathan’s disability.  Jacob is furious – he might find it frustrating to communicate with Nathan, but he loves his brother and feels protective.

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As Hanukkah continues, Steven’s teasing gets meaner and meaner.  Finally, on the final day of the holiday, Jacob has had enough.  He knocks on Steven’s door and demands that Steven stop making fun of Nathan.

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It looks like the boys’ friendship is over – until Jacob and Nathan’s mom has an idea.  She invites Steven and his family over to light the candles on the final night of Hanukkah.  They light the Menorah…

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And then there’s a surprise!  Eight jelly doughnuts, with birthday candles in each one.  Mom announces that it’s “time for us to celebrate Hanukkah Nathan’s way.”

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The family gathers around the doughnuts and blows the candles out together – a perfect way to bring the boys back together and close out a memorable Hanukkah.  Bravo, Mom!

I bought Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles on a whim after seeing it on a table at Peanut’s and Nugget’s old preschool’s annual book fair.  I’d been wanting to add some Hanukkah books to the kids’ library, and – well – I couldn’t resist the title, for obvious reasons.  But I was delighted to open the book and discover that in addition to introducing my kids to a holiday from a faith tradition outside their own – something I am always trying to do – it was also a wonderful, kind celebration of a sweet boy with a disability.

We read and clap along as Jacob learns a lesson about showing kindness and understanding to his autistic brother, and as he stands up to a bully in Nathan’s defense.  The message – that it’s okay to be wired a bit differently, that families and traditions can adapt, and that showing love can bring a bully around – is just lovely.  As I’ve navigated the bookstores with an eye out for diverse books for my kids, one of the biggest challenges has been finding books about kids with disabilities; Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles was a delightful exception to that rule.  (And friends, if you have any other suggestions for books celebrating kids with disabilities – I’d love to have them!)  If you’re looking for a good Hanukkah book to add to your holiday library, or if you’re wanting to showcase diverse books about disabled kids, or both – do check out Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles.  Fair warning, though – it’s going to make you hungry for jelly doughnuts.

What diverse books are you reading this month?

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