Even if you are not Jewish, many of us know this wonderful toast – “l’chaim!” or, “to life!”
Not to spoil the ending for you, but this is how the beautiful story of the children’s book One Candle concludes – with a Jewish family toasting with the words “L’chaim!” on the first night of their celebration of Hanukkah.
An Extra Special Family Hanukkah
To this family, Hanukkah has an extra special meaning. We listen in closely to the story told from the point of view of a young girl, one of the youngest in this family, as she shares their Hanukkah tradition. Her grandmother and great-aunt were just young girls themselves during the days of the Holocaust, and were interned in the concentration camp Buchenwald in Germany.
Through Grandma and Great-Aunt Rose’s memories and illustrations, we see how in bravery they were able to celebrate Hanukkah with the other girls and women in their barracks… with only one candle. One very special candle. And so each year since, at their Hanukkah gatherings, they remember this event with their entire family, passing the story down from generation to generation.
One Candle is one of author Eve Bunting’s finest works. Illustrator K. Wendy Popp brings out the imagery of memory in her soft illustrations, as if the entire book were glowing in candlelight. It is a gentle story, but it shares something serious and tragic, and so would be more appropriate for an upper elementary audience and older, though when I shared the book with my family, it captured the attention of my preschool son as well.
As such, it is a good introduction to both Judaism and Hanukkah for children who are unfamiliar with them, and for the older among readers, a way to introduce the history of the Holocaust through story and memory. My 10-year-old daughter liked the fact that it was told in first-person point of view, as if she were listening to the little girl tell her herself.
I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a story on family and tradition. It has long been one of my favorites as it shares a memorable story of family history, and the importance of sharing our family stories with the next generation.
For older children, learning about the Holocaust can be incorporated, in particular the camp Buchenwald, which is mentioned in the story.
Holocaust History for Young People
Further reading on Hanukkah
Papa’s Latkes by Michelle Edwards
A bittersweet story about a family’s first Hanukkah without their mother, and how Papa makes it special by making his own kind of latkes with his daughters
I hope you enjoy this book as my family has. And to my Jewish friends: