Fans of “Magic Tree House” will love “A Dreidel in Time” by Marcia Berneger with illustrations by Beatriz Castro (ages 7+), which transports readers via a magical dreidel to when Hanukkah began.
When the grandparents of 9-year-old Benjamin and his 12-yearold sister, Devorah, visit on Hanukkah, the siblings hope to receive gifts. Instead, they’re offered a large, lopsided dreidel speckled red and gray with fancy Hebrew letters. Mom, Bubbe and Zayde encourage the disappointed kids to try out this strange dreidel. Respectful of family tradition, the siblings agree. The dreidel spins wildly, vanishes, and the children realize they’ve traveled back to the land of their ancestors.
There, Benjamin and Devorah meet siblings Simon and Shoshana, who help them escape the cruel soldiers arresting everyone observing Jewish traditions. Unfortunately, Judah Maccabee (the Jewish priest who led the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire from 167–160 BCE) believes the time travelers are spies. Benjamin, knowing from Hebrew school how the Hanukkah story and history play out, warns the Maccabees that Antiochus will be sending soldiers to find and fight them. Still, the siblings are sent to a guarded cave. Inside, they again discover and spin the dreidel, which sends them forward in time two years before it disappears again.
This time, Maccabee adopts a battle strategy that Benjamin suggests, but the plan only partially works and Benjamin is captured by the enemy. Simon and Shoshana convince Maccabee to ambush the enemies. Devorah boldly rescues her brother and just barely escapes a commander’s spear, thanks to another spin of the dreidel. The siblings arrive at the Temple rededication, where their search for an unbroken jar of oil ultimately leads to a final dreidel spin and their return home – complete with a newfound appreciation of Hanukkah’s significance.
SAN DIEGO – Ah, the joys of time travel! San Diego author Marcia Berneger, a retired teacher, uses this device to imaginatively retell the story of the first Chanukah in A Dreidel in Time, a chapter book for children between the ages of 8 and 13.
On the assumption that our readership is a lot older than 13-year-olds – a lot, lot older – I’ll share the plot with you. I figure that I won’t be spoiling the story for the eventual readers if I summarize it here so you can consider buying the $8.99 book published by Kar-Ben as a Chanukah gift for a child or grandchild.
Siblings Benjamin and Devorah are anxious to open their Chanukah presents, and have little patience for their visiting grandparents’ suggestion that they play with a family heirloom dreidel. But once they spin it, everything starts spinning and they find they have been transported from 21st century Los Angeles to Modi’in, Judea, in the second century before the common era. Mattisyahu and his son Judah are complaining about the many ways the occupying Syrian-Greeks are interfering with the practice of the Jewish religion.
After the Maccabees have taken to the mountains, Benjamin remembers a story he read in school about how George Washington fooled the British in one military campaign. He had his men pull out of the camp after they created some scarecrow like figures to sit near the campfire. This gave the British the idea that the camp was lightly defended, and when they sent some troops to take it over, Washington’s men came out of hiding and defeated them. Benjamin suggested the same stratagem to Judah Maccabee, only later remembering that Washington had learned of this plan by reading about the Maccabees’ war against the armies of Antiochus.
Whenever Benjamin and Devorah would spin the dreidel, it would land on a different letter, advancing them through the Chanukah story, until they came to the Holy Temple in time for Devorah to find the jar of oil that would burn miraculously for eight days. A final spin of the dreidel brought the brother and sister back to their home. They thought they had been away for a long time, but in fact, according to their parents and grandparents, they hadn’t been gone at all.
Now, however, Benjamin and Devorah were not so impatient to open their Chanukah presents. After seeing how the Judeans lovingly brought gifts to the refurbished temple after its desecration by the Syrian Greeks, the children decided it was much better to give gifts than to receive them. They scrambled to their rooms to find the presents they had put aside for their parents and grandparents.
The 82-page book is illustrated by Beatriz Castro.—Website
"A classic Hanukkah tale with a fantasy twist tells the story of a dreidel that spins backward in time, leading children to the time of Judah the Maccabee in ancient Israel. Many versions of this story have been told over the years, both in Hebrew and in English, entertaining generations of children with different interpretations on Jewish history.
Marcia Berneger’s new picture book uses the basic elements of the story but adds another layer. In addition to learning about the holiday and a bit of Jewish history, the story presents a gentle moral lesson — that Hanukkah is not entirely about receiving presents. Taking a moral stand and putting oneself on the line when confronting issues of right and wrong is more important than ripping wrapping paper off gifts for eight nights in a row.
Devorah and Benjamin see Hanukkah as a gift-giving extravaganza. They are interested only in what they will get next from family members who want them to enjoy the holiday. But when Bubbe and Zayde arrive with a gift for them to share, they are disappointed to find an old, ugly, used dreidel in the package. The disappointed feeling doesn’t last long; the children are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime!
Over several spins, the dreidel mysteriously hurtles them into the past where they become an integral part of the Hanukkah story, and meet a series of characters they have only previously encountered in their Hebrew school classes. They see King Antiochus who is determined to destroy the Temple and prevail over the Jews, as well as Judah Maccabee and his cohorts, who bravely oppose him and his powerful armies. The children are surprised by this turn of events and endeavor to be helpful, using their knowledge of history to make sure the Jews win the battle. Although Devorah and Benjamin try to tell Judah what is about to occur so he can be prepared to fight effectively, he refuses to listen and simply will not understand. The children persevere and find a way to help, resulting in the rededication of the Temple and the familiar search for enough oil to light the menorah.
This enchanting book is illustrated in a cheerful, bright style which adds to the fun. Children of today will learn that Hanukkah is less about gifts and more about identity, bravery, and determination." --Jewish Book Council—Website
"Devorah and her younger brother, Benjamin, anxiously await their Hanukkah presents.They are disappointed when their grandparents give them only a very old, misshapen dreidel to share, but Mom knows that this dreidel has magical properties that once helped her reach a true understanding of Hanukkah. The children's first spin lands on Shin, meaning they have lost something. They have also somehow landed (with the dreidel) in ancient Modi'in, where Jews are in conflict with the Syrian king. The children find that they are speaking and understanding Hebrew and quickly become caught up in the fight between the Maccabees and the Syrian army. After the next spin, Nun, meaning neither gain nor loss, two years have passed and the battles continue. Hey, or halfway, leads to 'a great miracle happened here': one night's oil burning for eight nights. Finally they spin Gimmel, or everything, and at last return home with a better understanding of their holiday traditions. These modern children are not only witnesses; they use historical information to guide the Maccabees' leaders and to participate bravely in the events—to the extent that the author seems to imply that these ancients might not have been able to succeed without them. Castro's black-and-white cartoon illustrations provide readers with visual context, depicting both historical and modern characters with pale skin. This exciting retelling of the Hanukkah story should appeal to both Jewish and non-Jewish children. (Historical fiction/fantasy. 8-10)"―Kirkus Reviews—Journal
"Devorah and Benjamin can’t wait for Bubbe and Zayde to arrive so they can open their Hanukkah presents. How disappointed they are to see their gift of an ugly, old dreidel, until the dreidel magically spins them back to Modi’in to join the Maccabees! The Maccabees think Devorah and Benjamin are spies until the siblings meet Simon and Shoshanah, who listen to Devorah and Benjamin’s ideas. They use what they know from learning the Hanukkah story in Hebrew School to help the Maccabees win their battle against Antiochus. They teach the Maccabees how to use slingshots, plan their escape from Antiochus’ army, and help them clean up and restore the temple. When Devorah finds a small jar of oil for the menorah, she also locates the missing magic dreidel that spins them back to their present-day celebration at home. Cleverly relying on a magic dreidel to get the children into and out of the Hanukkah story, the author weaves an exciting, engaging tale that incorporates facts about the holiday along the way. Twelve-year old Devorah and eight-year-old Benjamin are spunky, fun-loving, modern children who suddenly find themselves back in Biblical history, speaking Hebrew when they know no Hebrew, wearing dusty old tunics and baggy pants, living in a tent, dodging elephants and a large army of men with shields and spears. The book is divided into 18 short chapters, each with a small, black-and-white illustration at the heading, as well as 10 full-page black-and-white cartoon-like illustrations, showing oddly similar characters, all with light skin and large round eyes, whether Biblical or modern. There are very few easy chapter books with Jewish content. This is one that will appeal to any reader, Jewish or not, despite a reference to the Maccabees before their role is fully explained." — Association of Jewish Libraries—Other Print