The Eight Knights Of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman & Galia Bernstein

This was a weird one for me. On the one hand, hurray for good deeds and celebrating Hanukkah! The titular Eight Knights of Hanukkah are the children of Lady Sadie, tasked with safeguarding the kingdom from a dragon named Dreadful who keeps interrupting everyone’s preparations for the big celebration. Her Ladyship tells her children to go forth and perform “deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery.”

So, as Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach hunt down the dragon, the other knights help out the villagers, especially in prepping and making all the delicious treats they’re planning to bring to the celebration. The exception is sweet Sir Henry, who chooses to stay home and clean and look after his mother — just as important a part of preparing for Hanukkah or any other celebration, IMO! Sir Isabella and Sir Rugelach are starting to get discouraged, however, having traversed the length and breadth of the kingdom in pursuit of Dreadful… until they finally come face to face with the terrifying dragon.

Ofc, all’s well that ends well, and everyone gets to enjoy a wonderful Hanukkah feast after sunset. The cast is charmingly multiracial, and all of the children are titled Sir, regardless of gender. Galia Bernstein’s illustrations are a delight, with expressive characters and action scenes that require almost no explanation.

So it’s a little weird how oddly stilted a good portion of the text feels. While Sir Henry’s initial “Bye, Mommy” is incredibly cute, the bit about the dreidel, followed by the abrupt transition to the dragon hunt then back to another knight, all feel underdeveloped. The rest of the book goes on fine, and it’s a cute conceit to merge Hanukkah traditions with concepts of medieval European chivalry, even if the latter has typically treated Jewish people with a grudging tolerance at best. But I did feel it was a little off-putting to have that last theme coupled with the statement in the afterword that the oppressor of the Jewish people at the time of the Maccabees (when the miracle of Hanukkah occurred) was Syrian. I mean, sure, Antiochus IV ruled a large historical territory which the powers of the day termed Syria, but his entire Seleucid dynasty was culturally, if not ethnically, Greek. As a modern adult reader, it just feels like a weird revisionism of Mediterranean history that is entirely too forgiving of white Europeans, especially when contrasted with the determinedly multiracial illustrations.

Anyway, I’m probably overthinking it. If your kid loves knights and dragons, this is a fun way to get them to learn more about as well as get into the spirit of Hanukkah. Awesome kindness and stupendous bravery are all things any decent person can get behind.

The Eight Knights Of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman & Galia Bernstein was published September 15 2020 by Holiday House and is available from all good booksellers, including

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