Reviews /

Eight Nights, Eight Lights

Authored by Natalie Barnes
Illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier
Published by Little Tiger Press

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Eight Nights, Eight Lights is a narrative account of the Jewish Festival of Lights or Chanukah. The picture book describes the period of eight nights as celebrated in various homes, within a close and bustling city community.

Beautifully illustrated, this is an attractive book introducing younger primary-age children to the Chanukah festival. Presented from the viewpoint of children Max and Lara, It begins just before the festival itself when Max is excitedly hurrying home telling his grandpa that he’s going to light the first candle on the family’s menorah that night. He does this in the company of his grandparents and mother. Meanwhile, across the road, Lara and her family are doing the same thing.

The author describes other festivities taking place in different homes – the candle lighting, the preparation, and sharing of special foods, including latkes and cookies decorated with Jewish stars, the playing of dreidel, and the welcoming of visitors. There’s an exchange of gifts and one young couple is spending their first night in a new home together. On the eighth night, there’s a party at the synagogue and the rabbi tells the story of the festival’s origins – how the oil in the menorah lasted not one but eight nights. Finally, back home once more, having lit all eight candles Max and his mother look out onto the street where ‘fireworks burst overhead’ and windows are bright with light.

I found the diversity of the people pictured and the warmth of the illuminated windows, in contrast to the snowy outdoors, all helped to draw the reader into the atmosphere of the multi-ethnic community, where a church and synagogue can be seen. The text communicates the story of Chanukah and its history through the experiences of families, which enables young readers to understand a festival they may be unfamiliar with. This is a  book for the school library and for KS1 teachers to use as part of a unit of work on festivals and religious celebrations.