Beni's First Chanukah

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Beni's First Chanukah Book Poster Image
Insipid text, pictures present nothing new.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive messages

The children turn the house upside down trying to sneak a peek at their presents.

Violence & scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book tells of a traditional celebration with adequate writing and pictures, but it doesn't provide much detail or explanation.

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What's the story?

Beni, a young bear, gets ready for the first night of Hanukkah. He helps his parents make latkes, and searches with his sister, Sara, for the hidden presents.

As it starts to snow, the children go out to play and to visit their squirrel friends, Sasha and Christopher. They invite the squirrels home with them for the evening's festivities.

Back home they light the candles, play with a dreidel, and open presents. At bedtime they agree it was the best Hanukkah ever. A recipe for latkes is given at the end.

Is it any good?

There is certainly a need for more good picture books for young children about Hanukkah, but this isn't one of them. Both pictures and text are insipid. The author offers nothing new, either in story or language -- this is a connect-the-dots celebration of the holiday. The pictures, full of smiling, cuddly bears, are reminiscent of Beatrix Potter, but without the charm.

Oddly, the author passes up chances to add any real content: Beni and Papa recite a prayer, but the prayer isn't given. Grandpa tells the story of Hanukkah, but it's assumed that readers already know it. There are other problems as well. For example, the ornate wallpaper patterns distract from the characters, and the author says "light flakes of snow began to dust the trees," but the picture shows the world covered in deep snow.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Hanukkah. Since this book falls a bit short, talk about the meaning of the holiday, the prayers, and the traditions. Why do you think TV shows, books, movies, etc. pay less attention to Hanukkah than to Christmas?

Book details

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