Thursday, November 15, 2007

review: Hanukkah Shmanukkah

I would've thought all us kidlit types knew this book already, but apparently not, so I'm spreading the word.

Hanukkah, Shmanukkah! by Esme Raji Codell. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Hyperion, 2005 (978-0-7868-5179-9) $16.99

Several different threads of Jewish history--the first Hanukkah, immigration to the United States and the fight for unions and better working conditions in sweatshops--are all woven together in a parody of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" that is funny, touching, and far more grounded in business reality than the original. Cranky old "Scroogemacher" does "not rush out and get a big challah and bring it to the Gersteins" after his visits from the Rabbis of Hanukkah Past, Present and Future, but he does treat his workers a little better and listen to their demands when they go on strike. If reading aloud, you will want to gear up your best Yiddish accent to do justic to the text, which is lavishly sprinkled with phrases like "That farshtunkener butcher sold me bad meat" and "Don't ask me for alms. I put it in the tzedakah box already"; though the book is long, the narrative is so flavorfully constructed, it's hard to stop reading. (A glossary is included.) Illustrations in mostly muted browns, reds and yellows are rather familiar images of Jewish "types," which works in this context. (5 & up)