Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles is a story about Hanukkah but with a twist. It traces the celebratory rituals that Jacob and his family enjoy for the eight days of Hanukkah as well as shows Jacob’s frustration and embarrassment with his autistic big brother Nathan who constantly repeats himself, hugs complete strangers, and obsessively announces long lists of random facts. A centerpiece of the Hanukkah tradition is lighting the menorah; and, for Jacob, it becomes central to his holiday anxiety: Every day of the Hanukkah celebration, much to Jacob’s chagrin, Nathan blows out the newly lit candle on the menorah. Their parents are patient with Nathan and his autism; and, they help guide Jacob and their new neighbors’ son to becoming a bit more understanding of his disorder as well.
The text and illustrations may lack the playful allure that would attract the attention of young readers between the ages of 3 and 5, but they certainly address a critical social skill that needs to be taught to this particular age group—empathy for those who are different from ourselves. This concept is near and dear to the author who is the parent of a highly-functioning autistic son. This book would best serve children of all ages when read with the guidance of an adult who can explain autism to them. The fact that Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles is presented within the context of a familiar tradition makes it a relatable, visual example of what autism may look like for some people with the disorder.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 3+
Reviewer: LaTonya Jackson