Retailers can be thankful this year for another December when gift-giving holidays for three major religions coincide in the final month of the year.
But the convergence of three religious feasts in one month also offers adherents of all religions the opportunity for reading, reflection, and study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
As Jews mark the last day of Hanukkah today, Muslims continue their celebration of the Eid ul-Fitr, and Christians anticipate Christmas on Dec. 25, we offer here a seasonal sampling of books representing the three major faiths and suitable for gift-giving or personal study. Several interfaith books also are included.
D IS FOR DREIDEL: A HANUKKAH ALPHABET BOOK. By Tanya Lee Stone. Illustrated by Dawn Apperley. Price Stern Sloan. $4.99. This dreidel-shaped book uses aspects of the holiday of Hanukkah to teach children the English alphabet (“B is for bracha, the blessing we sing.”) Recommended for grades Kindergarten-2, the book also contains the story of Hanukkah and requires some basic understanding of the festival.
RUNAWAY DREIDEL! By Leslea Newman. Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker. Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. $17.95. Written for children ages 4-8, this delightful rhythmic tale that begins, “Twas the first night of Chanukah and on the fifth floor,” shows and tells the story of a runaway dreidel and its pursuit by a child.
INVISIBLE KINGDOMS: JEWISH TALES OF ANGELS, SPIRITS, AND DEMONS. Retold by Howard Schwartz. Illustrated by Stephen Fieser. HarperCollins. $16.99. Nine Jewish mystical stories, many from oral tradition, are retold in this volume suitable for ages 9-12.
HANUKKAH: THE FAMILY GUIDE TO SPIRITUAL CELEBRATION. By Ron Wolfson. Jewish Lights Publishing. $18.95. The second edition of this collection of recipes, songs, and craft and gift ideas includes a chapter on the “December Dilemma” confronting Jewish families who seek to preserve their religious traditions at a time when the Christian celebration of Christmas can be overwhelming.
JEWISH TALES OF MYSTIC JOY. By Yitzhak Buxbaum. Jossey-Bass. $19.95. Buxbaum, a Jewish scholar and storyteller, gathers stories from great Hasidic masters in this compilation of charming tales. Readers also may be interested in Buxbaum's Jewish Tales of Holy Women, (Jossey-Bass, $19.95), a similar anthology with stories about strong and wise Jewish women.
WOMEN OF THE WALL: CLAIMING SACRED GROUND AT JUDAISM'S HOLY SITE. Edited by Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut. Jewish Lights Publishing. $34.95. The editors, both founders of the International Committee for the Women of the Wall, brought liberal and orthodox voices together for this recounting of the struggle of women for the right to pray aloud together and read from the Torah at Israel's western wall, known as the Kotel.
LIVING JEWISH: VALUES, PRACTICES, AND TRADITIONS. By Beryl Wein. Shaar Press. $20.99. Although not a book just about Hanukkah, this exploration of life-cycle events and Jewish family life, values, and practices written by a rabbi contains a section on the eight-day holiday that also is known as the festival of lights.
CULTURES OF THE JEWS: A NEW HISTORY. Edited by David Biale. Schocken Books. $45. Some of the world's foremost Jewish scholars representing diverse disciplines contributed essays to this work, which demonstrates how the Jewish way of life and religion often were shaped by the culture in which they existed. A treasure for history buffs.
CHRISTMAS PRESENCE: TWELVE GIFTS THAT WERE MORE THAN THEY SEEMED. Edited by Gregory Augustine Pierce. ACTA Press. $17.95. This seasonal selection features essays based on Christmas gifts that turned out to be significant in the lives of the recipients. For example, in “Big Harriet Herself,” writer Carol DeChant tells about the Brownie camera she received as an 8-year-old from her childless Aunt Harriet and how the gift became a means to document the family's history.
HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: STORIES FOR YOUNG AND OLD. Edited by Miriam Leblanc. Plough Publishing. $15. Publishers Weekly called this “undoubtedly the most literary collection of Christmas stories to be published this season,” adding that the editors chose “classic, elegant writing” over “sentimental claptrap.” Contributors include Henry van Dyke, Pearl S. Buck, and Madeleine L'Engle.
CHRISTMAS IN HARMONY. By Philip Gulley. HarperSanFrancisco. $12.95. Gulley's popular series set in Harmony, Ind., continues with a Christmas story featuring Pastor Sam Gardner and his Quaker church. This time, the congregation deals with an elder who wants to raise money by sponsoring a “progressive Nativity scene.”
SECRETS OF THE MUSTARD SEED: TEN LIFE-CHANGING PROMISES FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT. By Steven Mosley. NavPress. $10. Bible teacher Steven Mosley elaborates on what he calls the New Testament's 10 commandments: live by faith, overflow with thanks, love the truth, forgive for good, encourage daily, sustain joy, persist patiently, give cheerfully, spread peace, and make a stand.
GRACE MATTERS: A TRUE STORY OF RACE, FRIENDSHIP, AND FAITH IN THE HEART OF THE SOUTH. By Chris P. Rice. Jossey-Bass. $22.95. Rice's beautifully written memoir chronicles the story of his friendship with Spencer Perkins, whom he met after traveling to Mississippi to do volunteer work in 1981. Together, the two men founded Antioch, an interfaith community where blacks and whites chose to live together.
THE JESUS MEDITATIONS: A GUIDE FOR CONTEMPLATION. By Michael Kennedy. Crossroad/Herder & Herder. $19.95. Kennedy, a Jesuit priest serving in Los Angeles, began using his gospel-based meditations in his ministry with surprising results. Now he shares them with a larger audience via this book and its accompanying CD, narrated by actor Martin Sheen. Each meditation in the book includes an anecdote from someone who tells how the reflections transformed his or her life.
THE COURAGE TO BE CATHOLIC. By George Weigel. Basic Books. $22. Catholics searching for direction in a year that has seen their church torn apart by scandal will appreciate Weigel's insightful and practical commentary on what went wrong and how to fix it.
HERO FOR HUMANITY: A BIOGRAPHY OF WILLIAM WILBERFORCE. By Kevin Belmonte. NavPress. $24. This account of the life of the man who devoted himself to eradicating Britain's slave trade and abolishing slavery in the British colonies shows how Wilberforce was motivated in large measure by his conversion to evangelical Christianity.
A LOVE WORTH GIVING. By Max Lucado. Word. $22.99. It wouldn't be Christmas without another Max Lucado tome to put under the tree. This one offers Lucado's meditation on I Corinthians 13, the New Testament's famous passage on love.
A LIFE GOD REWARDS. By Bruce Wilkinson. Multnomah. $10.99. The author of the wildly popular Prayer of Jabez looks at why the good suffer and the wicked prosper and how life on Earth is linked with life after death. A young people's version, A Life God Rewards for Teens, also is available for $9.99. The handy size makes these great stocking-stuffers.
THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS. By J.R.R. Tolkien. Ballantine. $29.96. Sets of these Tolkien works may be especially popular gifts this year in light of the release of movies based on the Rings series. Tolkien fans may be interested, too, in two books that look at the books' spiritual message: Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues: Discovering the Spiritual Themes of the Lord of the Rings, by Mark Eddy Smith (InterVarsity Press, $10.99) and Finding God in the Lord of the Rings, by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware (Tyndale, $12.99).
HOLY INNOCENTS. By Bill Kassel. Company Publications. $16.95. Written to appeal to readers interested in new Catholic fiction, this mystery begins with the discovery of a dead baby at a Catholic school and continues as members of a small Midwest Catholic parish face various moral challenges. Bill Kassel is the pen name for Bill Koshelnyk, a southeastern Michigan resident who hopes to make this the first in a series.
MUSLIM CHILD: UNDERSTANDING ISLAM THROUGH STORIES AND POEMS. By Rukhsana Khan. Illustrated by Patty Gallinger. Albert Whitman & Co. $14.95. Designed for children between the ages of 9 and 12, these stories about Muslims around the world reflect the global face of Islam and enlarge upon the religion's “five pillars.” Includes explanations of Muslim terms, traditions, a pronunciation guide, and instructions for making greeting cards for the Eid ul-Fitr.
INVINCIBLE ABDULLAH SERIES. By Haji U. Hutchinson. Amer Trust Publications. $29.99. Marketed as an alternative to the Harry Potter books for Muslim children ages 10-13, this adventure series shows the hero, Abdullah, succeeding by staying true to his faith. Stories include The Deadly Mountain Revenge, The Mystery of the Missing Pearls, The Car Theft Kidnapping, and Wilderness Survival. Available through Muslim stores, such as NoorArt.
CELEBRATING RAMADAN. By Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith. Illustrated by Lawrence Migdale. Holiday House. $16.95. A beautifully illustrated book for ages 9 to 12, Celebrating Ramadan teaches about Islam's holy month of fasting through the life of Ibraheem, an American fourth-grader.
MAGID FASTS FOR RAMADAN. By Mary Matthews. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Houghton Mifflin. $6.95. This tender story of 8-year-old Magid, who wants desperately to observe the Ramadan fast, is geared to readers between the ages of 4 and 8.
PORTRAIT OF ISLAM: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE MUSLIM WORLD. Photographs by Robin Laurance. Thames & Hudson. $34.95. This stunning coffee-table book containing the work of a photojournalist features images from around the world that reflect the diversity of Muslim life.
AMERICAN MUSLIMS: BRIDGING FAITH AND FREEDOM. By Muqtedar Khan. Amana. $14.95. Adrian College professor Muqtedar Khan issues his call to American Muslims to get involved in the nation that has befcome their home and to stop looking backward to where they came from.
FESTIVALS OF THE WORLD: THE ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO CELEBRATIONS, CUSTOMS, EVENTS, AND HOLIDAYS. By Elizabeth Brenilly, Joanne O'Brien, and Martin Palmer, Martin Marty, and Joanne O'Brian. Checkmark. $29.95. A colorful guide to everybody's holidays that includes explanations of the significant observances of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, Sikhism, and Hinduism.
CRADLE AND CRUCIBLE: HISTORY AND FAITH IN THE MIDDLE EAST. National Geographic. $30. A handful of scholars and writers including journalist Daniel Schorr and historical author David Fromkin were assembled to write this survey of the Middle East, which examines the region's history and faith. Although this is not a picture book, the photographs that are included in it make for an absorbing accompaniment to the text.
ABRAHAM: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THREE FAITHS. By Bruce Feiler. William Morrow. $23.95. Feiler, a journalist and author of the best-selling Walking the Bible, follows up on his 10,000-mile trek from Mount Ararat to Mount Nebo, by looking at Abraham, the biblical figure revered by the three major religions in conflict in the Middle East. Abraham already has been hailed by critics for compelling writing that effectively blends history, memoir, and travel.
THE BIG BOOK OF ANGELS. By the editors of Beliefnet. Rodale Books. $19.95. This angelic compilation begins with an examination of the presence of heavenly beings in Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other religious traditions and continues with a generous sampling of stories about real-life angelic encounters. The accounts include one about George Washington being comforted by an angel during the hard winter at Valley Forge and another about how Charles Lindbergh claimed to have seen friendly, vapor-like shapes guiding his flight across the Atlantic in 1927.