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A Dreidel in Time

A New Spin on an Old Tale

A Dreidel in Time
Marcia Berneger By (author)
Beatriz Castro Illustrated by
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Lerner Publishing Group

Limited ***

5.3 X 7.5 in
88 pg

JUVENILE FICTION / Holidays & Celebrations / Hanukkah
JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Jewish
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Time travel and Hanukkah, a great combo!


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.

"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 LibrariesOther Print

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 CouncilWebsite

"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 ReviewsJournal

Author Bio

Marcia Berneger is a retired teacher who lives with her husband and three crazy dogs. She currently teaches Torah school in addition to volunteering in classrooms, libraries and with various fundraisers. She loves the way books teach children how to navigate their world and soar. She lives in San Diego.

Beatriz Castro was born in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain. As a little girl, she was always drawing and writing stories. A graduate of the School of Arts of Logroño, her illustrations have appeared on covers and in books produced by a variety of international publishers.