Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 17, 2022

Book Giveaway: HANUKKAH IN LITTLE HAVANA by Julie Anna Blank

Julie Anna Blank’s debut picture book, HANUKKAH IN LITTLE HAVANA, illustrated by Carlos Velez Aguilera and published by Kar-Ben Publishing is available in bookstores. They have agreed to send a copy to the one lucky winner in the US.

Just leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Let me know other things you did to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Julie Anna and Carlos.

If you have signed up to follow my blog and it is delivered to you everyday, please let me know when you leave a comment and I will give you an extra ticket. If you want to make sure you don’t miss seeing that you won, please click “Notify Me of Follow-Up Comments by Email” box. I will leave a comment in reply if you win the book. Thanks!


Every December, a little girl in Virginia looks forward to receiving a crate of oranges from her grandparents in Miami, but this year is even better. The family is taking a driving trip to visit Nonna and Nonno in Florida! At Nonna and Nonno’s house, they pick grapefruit and oranges under the sun. They dance the salsa and play in the waves at the beach. Best of all, they celebrate Hanukkah together. The girls help Nonna make latkes, and buñuelos stuffed with almonds and guava jelly. It’s eight days of light and love.


How Midnight to Miami became Hanukkah in Little Havana

Back in late fall of 2019 my local, independent bookstore, Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, sponsored a “Tales of the Season” writing contest. The public was invited to share sweet memories of Decembers gone by. Winners would present at public readings and have stories posted in shop fronts for holiday shoppers to enjoy. I immediately pictured stories filled with sleigh rides, carolers, hot cocoa, Christmas trees, etc. Beautiful images, but none that represented tales or memories of my favorite Decembers.

Feeling compelled to represent, I sat down to write what I originally titled Road Trip Kidnap which later became Midnight to Miami, describing the road trips to Florida my family made from the Washington, D.C. area to visit my grandparents. I intentionally did not use the words Hanukkah or Little Havana until the very last lines of my story because I wanted the audience waiting for the Christmas payoff at the end. If selected, I knew I’d be reading to adults. The original story was a little darker and somewhat melancholy with themes of escape and revolution.

I wanted my audience in  a state of mild confusion, unease, and suspense. In the end, my “tale of the season” was selected. I gave two public readings and got the results I had hoped for—the last line, “Hanukkah in Little Havana” was met with sounds of surprise and loud applause. Very satisfying!

Winter gave way to March of 2020, and you know what happened… COVID lockdown. Being a school librarian, I was working from home full time, very long hours, but Midnight to Miami kept calling to me. I reworked it with children in mind and lightened it. I reimagined it as a picture book full of warm and sunny Hanukkahs in modern day, representing Jewish kids who speak Spanish like me.

As a school librarian working hard to make sure all my students have windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors (thank you Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop), I was hard pressed to find many books with Spanish speaking Jewish kids enjoying Ladino or Sephardic traditions. That’s when Midnight to Miami became Hanukkah in Little Havana. Turns out I had buried the headline!

Picking oranges under the sun, dancing salsa, and making guava-filled buñuelos! Spending Hanukkah with Nonna and Nonno in Florida is like a dream come true.

Many drafts later, I submitted my manuscript to an agency with hopes of professional representation and got a lovely rejection full of encouragement to keep trying. I looked through Jewish themed books in my library and decided Kar-ben (an imprint of Lerner) would be a good bet. I sent my manuscript off and promptly forgot about it.

In October of 2020 Kar-ben contacted me with an offer. Even luckier, Kar-ben chose Carlos Velez Aguilera to illustrate. Now, two years later, a beautiful book full of my fondest, family memories is a reality. No one is more surprised or thrilled than me!


After a childhood of moving every few years, Julie Anna Blank has enjoyed staying put in her Pacific Northwest home of 30 years, where she is a school librarian. She and her husband hit the road for van life adventures in their Sprinter, most often to visit their two grown sons.

Having been a storyteller all her life, Julie is thrilled to see her words in print finally. Hanukkah in Little Havana is her first children’s book.


Carlos Vélez Aguilera was born in Mexico City in 1980. For 12 years he has been a professional illustrator and dedicated full time to editorial illustration. He is a graduate of the National School of Plastic Arts of the National University Autonomous of Mexico.

He takes different workshops and illustration seminars with teachers such as Javier Sáez, Kveta Pakovska, Adellci Galloni, Noemí Villamuza, Santiago Caruso, Andres Neves, Roberto Inoccenti, among others. He has illustrated books for various publishers in Mexico such as: Santillana, Ediciones Castillo, Norma, SM, Trillas, Richmond, Alfaguara, Porrua, among others. As well as a large number of magazines and animation projects.

He has illustrated more than 20 books for children’s literature as well as a book of author “Salón Destino”. He has been recognized with two illustration awards in the catalogue for the International Children’s and Youth Book Fair in Mexico.

Julie, thank you for sharing your book and journey with us. I took one look at your book and knew I had to share it with everyone. This is such a fun, sweet book. I have cherised memories of the daysvisiting my grandparents farm. They didn’t live in Flordia, but I loved following the characters in this book to Nonna and Nonno’s house in Flordia. Your love for this time in your life really came through on the pages of the book. Carlos is a very talented artist and his illustrations captured the joy of this story. The whole book is perfect. I am sure Hanukkah in Little Havana will sells for many years. Best wishes for the book.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Julie what a wonderful book journey. Love this idea for another slant on Hanukah. Can’t wait to read and share with my family. Good luck with your future writing endeavors. Posting FB/ Twitter for extra chances to win.


  2. I’m on the lookout for Hanukkah books this year and can’t wait to read this one. I am a subscriber and retweeted your post, Kathy. Congratulations, Julie.


  3. As someone who never had grandparents, I live vicariously through beautiful books like this one. I’m an email subscriber and shared on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and tumblr.


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