I’ve got two modern classics to get into today, both by authors I’m a big fan of. Let’s jump in!
My biography shelves are loaded with books by David A. Adler. He does phenomenal nonfiction writing for kids, and his Story of Hanukkah is a wonderfully comprehensive history of the holiday helped me understand more about the Hanukkah celebration. Adler’s factual text is enhanced by Jill Weber’s acrylic illustrations, portraying life in Biblical Judea, the Greek push to dominate, and Mattathias’ refusal to worship the Greek gods, along with his flight into the hills and subsequent rebellion against the Greeks. The bright, primary color artwork shows an epic battle between the Greek soldiers and the Maccabees, with a spreads featuring charging horsemen and war elephants, and hand-to-hand combat (the combatants look more knocked silly than anything else, for more delicate readers), and there are heart-warming modern family moments to conclude the story, as today’s families celebrate, Adler writes, “one of the first fights for religious freedom”. A tasty latke recipe and instructions on how to play the dreidel game round out the back matter, and blue endpapers with Hanukkah symbols – dreidels, scrolls, menorahs, gelt, and more – make this a lovely addition to your nonfiction holiday collections, and a great gift for your younger celebrants.
A hilarious tale of Hanukkah magic, Zigazak! takes place on the first night of Hanukkah, in the Belarus town of Brisk. Two little devils – they’re more tricksters than flat-out evil – decide to have some fun by starting some trouble around the town. They make dreidels sprout limbs and dance, they make latkes fly, they even make candles explode! The people are up in arms! What can they do? They ask the rabbi for help, and help he does: he finds the fun in the devils’ mischief, and tricks them at their own game. When he offers to free the devils and turn them into spirits of light, they push back: they like being bad! But try as they might, the rabbi will not be intimidated, and manages to convince them to turn themselves into cockroaches. One crunch later, the town of Brisk is back to celebrating Hanukkah, devil-free.
Zigazak! is a story that’s just made for out-loud reading, with the repeated magic titular phrase providing the perfect opportunity for getting the kids involved. Expect squeals and shrieks, because cockroaches are just awful. Eric A. Kimmel (whose similar tale of Hanukkah mischief, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, received a Caldecott Honor in 1990) weaves a masterful tale of mischief and morality, with delightfully goofy goblins illustrated by Jon Goodell. Goodell’s realistic artwork gives readers expressive characters reacting in horror as Hanukkah icons come to life, and a wise rabbi who exudes calm and wisdom. The most important part of Zigazak? Eric A. Kimmel’s belief, via the rabbi of Brisk: “…if we look hard enough, we can find the good in all living creatures”.
If you’ve never enjoyed this tale before, run to your holds list and add it. You’ll be happy you did.