________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2016


Yitzi and the Giant Menorah.

Richard Ungar.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover & epub., $21.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-812-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-814-3 (epub).

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by Reesa Cohen.

**** /4



One cold morning, on the eve of Hanukkah, a wagon pulled into Chelm,

"People of Chelm," the wagon driver announced, "the Mayor of Lublin wishes to bestow upon you a special gift."

Huddling together to stay warm, the villagers all tried to guess what the special gift might be.

"A fine cedar bench for the synagogue," said Arum, the carpenter.

"A golden water pump," said Hayim the Water Carrier.

"An oceanful of herring!" said Shmulik the Herring Vendor.

The villagers held their breath as the wagon driver flung blankets from a huge object strapped to the wagon.

"Yitzi," whispered Arum to his son, "I have never see a tree as beautiful as that one."

"It is not a tree, Father. It's … a menorah!"

Yitzi watched in amazement as the wagon driver, with help from the villagers, unloaded the biggest menorah he had ever seen.

That night, the villagers, delighted with their gift, light the giant Menorah, celebrating the first night of Hanukkah. They then begin to ponder the question of how best to thank the mayor for his extraordinary gift. Every night, suggestions are offered and acted upon. For example, a special batch of latkes made by Rivka is agreed by the group to be delivered by Shmulik to the mayor. Alas, Shmulik ends up eating them on the way. Other Hanukkah related ideas, although clever and even unique, are offered, but they meet similar diversions or are sabotaged.

      Finally on the last night of the holiday, it is Yitzi who has the most meaningful idea for a gift and an appropriate thank you to their generous mayor. Taking the menorah up the hill of Chelm for the mayor to see was the first step. Then, "The nine brilliant flames dancing in the night sky" and the blessing of the candles by all the villagers become the perfect vehicle for them to express their gratitude in the most grandiose way.

      The actual story of Chanukkah and how it came to be celebrated is told at the end, and includes some of the different spellings used for this beloved holiday. The text, written in a buoyant and playful manner, reflects a whimsical, folktale quality that reveals some of the actual traditions associated with the holiday of Chanukkah. The writing is vivid and engaging. This talented author is also the illustrator of the tale, and the bold, lively colours used add drama, texture and vibrancy to the story but also reflect a time and place long ago. Creating watercolour monoprints, Ungar has chosen a mixture of exquisite, rich colours for the villagers' clothing and the menorah. Even the wildly chosen colours of the background add to the energy of the story. Also included are a few black and white small drawings on several pages where the text appears.

      In an interview, Ungar was asked what he hopes readers will take away from the story. His answer: "I would like the readers to simply enjoy the story through both the words and pictures. On a deeper level, I would like to convey that the joy of Hanukkah can be found through a sense of community and working together… and also that a simple act – e.g. lighting the menorah – can have a profound effect." Mission accomplished in fine form!!

Highly Recommended.

Reesa Cohen is a retired Instructor of Children's Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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ISSN 1201-9364
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