A Brilliant Idea for Hanukkah Book Gifts

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 11, 2015

The wonderful thing about owning an independent bookstore is that 100% of the decisions are yours. The terrible thing about owning an indie is that 100% of the decisions are yours. I run up against this dichotomy every year during the holiday season, which seems to creep into stores earlier and earlier. Even though I personally love the holidays, I really hate the commercialization of them. And I’m a retailer! So it’s a conundrum.
Unlike chain stores, which earn publisher money or credit for displaying titles chosen by the publisher, Josie and I are wholly responsible for what we choose to display. We love the freedom, but sometimes the decisions are tough. We start getting requests for advent calendars, boxed holiday cards, and Christmas books in August, and if we delay putting any of them out until November, we know we are losing sales to other bookstores. So we often compromise by having a shelf or two in a side corner with holiday items starting in mid-October.
The worst aspect of seasonal displays is the overwhelming focus on Christmas books. I love Christmas. It’s the holiday I grew up celebrating. Twinkly lights and wrapped packages and sugar plums are happy, and stores look festive with bright red and gold accents. But Christmas is not everybody’s holiday, and as an occasion with deep religious origins, it excludes much of the American population. For instance, every Jewish friend and family member I love grew up oppressed by the relentless dominance of American Christmas in late November and December. It’s painful to think that Jewish and Muslim and Kwanzaa-celebrating families will walk into my store and feel marginalized. So we do small things, like opting for blue and silver decorative ornaments in the windows instead of red, green and gold. We buy and display books featuring all of this season’s holidays – but those options are more limited because the demand for them is much smaller in our area. So we have shelves and shelves of Christmas-related books and cards, while our Hanukkah and Kwanzaa offerings are paltry by comparison. This itches at me every single day.
Which brings me to the Hanukkah book revelation brought to me by authors Tara Lazar and Laurel Snyder. Tara posted a link on Facebook to Laurel’s fabulous online article, Hanukkah Gift Guide for Children’s Books. In the article, Laurel talks about the challenge of sharing the Hanukkah story for children: it’s intense and it’s scary, so no wonder books celebrating the holiday are hard to write and to find. (Christmas finds a way around its trickier elements by focusing most children’s books on Santa and presents and reindeer. There are zillions of these books. Hanukkah is a little trickier that way.) So Laurel had a brainstorm. She writes:

What if Hanukkah could be a time to talk with our kids about justice, oppression, and identity? What if we used the story of the Maccabees to help our kids empathize with other historic struggles for freedom, control, or autonomy? And maybe to understand their own place in the conversation and the world they live in?

This idea was so beautiful and perfect it made me a little weepy, I have to admit. And Laurel’s book list for celebrating resilience includes two of my very favorite books of this year: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez and Poet by Don Tate. Tomorrow night is the last night of Hanukkah. You might consider sharing some of these books with young people in your life.
Next year, I’m building a whole display of resiliency titles for the holiday season. What are your favorite books to add to the mix?

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