TRURO — Four-year-old Zella Beatrice Althaus, who is in the preschool class at the Truro Central School, was at the town library with her Bubbe, Fran Adams, on Friday. She and her grandmother were browsing books about Hanukkah two days before the holiday began.
Happy Llamakkah! (Abrams, 2020), written by Laura Gehl and illustrated by Lydia Nichols, caught Zella’s eye. The book is about a family of llamas and is written in rhyme, which makes it a fun book to hear read aloud. “Candles to light. More every night,” it begins.
The llamas are celebrating Llamakkah, of course. So, the story touches on familiar Hanukkah traditions and offers child-friendly background on the holiday’s origins.
“My favorite part of the holidays are presents,” says Zella while paging through the illustrations in the book.
“We didn’t give gifts every night during the eight nights of the holiday,” her Bubbe tells her. “It’s too much.”
There were five in the family, Adams says, and each night one person would give the others presents. “One night that was Mom, and the next night the kids would give theirs,” she says. “One night we would all decide what to give to charity, and another night we were invited to friends’.
“There was always one evening when we forgot to light a candle,” she adds.
Adams shows us a photo from last year. In it, she is helping Zella light the candles. “The shamash is the candle that lights the other candles,” Zella says. “This year I will be better at lighting the candles by myself.
“I also play dreidel,” says Zella, looking at an illustration of little llamas lying on the carpet and spinning a dreidel. An author’s note at the end of the book says that “the four letters on the spinning dreidel are the first letters of the words Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means “A great miracle happened there.”
In one illustration we see father llama frying latkes. Zella likes hers with applesauce. She also likes jelly donuts, called sufganiyot. “I think llamas like donuts, too,” Zella says. In another picture, the llamas have friends over to sing and celebrate. “I have so many cousins I can’t even count,” says Zella.
The book is simple but informative and cheerful. The illustrations are as clear as pictograms, with strong poster-like colors that young readers are drawn to.
Although Zella thinks the book is silly — she knows real llamas don’t celebrate Llamakkah or build llamas out of snow, as one illustration shows — she says she will still recommend it as a book her friends’ parents should read to them.
“Happy Llamakkah!” says Zella, laughing.