Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Oskar and Eight Blessings51kJJQr3hbL._SY399_BO1,204,203,200_Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Richard and Tanya Simon, Authors

Mark Siegel, Illustrator

Roaring Book Press, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2015

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Kindness, Refugees, Jews, Holocaust, Hanukkah, Blessings, New York City

Prologue: “Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar…until the Night of Broken Glass. His parents put him on a ship to America. He had nothing but an address and a photo of a woman he didn’t know — “It’s your Aunt Esther.” — and his father’s last words to him: “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”

Book Opening lines: Oskar arrived in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah. It was also Christmas Eve.

Book Jacket Synopsis: It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. Oskar, a refugee from the horrors of Nazi Europe, arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he’s never met. As he walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his aunt’s home uptown, he encounters the sights of the city at holiday time — and receives small acts of kindness from its people, each in its way welcoming him to the city and a life in the new world.

Why I like Oskar and the Eight Blessings:

Richard and Tanya Simon’s heartwarming story captures the best of New York and its residents who welcome Oskar to their city through their generous spirits and acts of kindness– a helping hand, a loaf of bread, a superman magazine, a snowball fight, a pair of mittens, and a friendly wink. It is the essence of what America is about, welcoming immigrants fleeing oppression or seeking a better life.

The story is realistic and believable for children. The characters are diverse. The plot is engaging. Oskar is overwhelmed by how small he feels in such a big city. He is tired and hungry. The sights and sounds are strange and confusing. Oskar is brave and remembers the wise fatherly advice he receives that wraps him in warmth during his 100-block journey to his aunt’s house.

This Hanukkah story, set in 1938, is timeless and should be shared with children no matter what tradition they celebrate. Compassion and kindness towards others is not limited to color, race or culture. This is a story of hope for humanity.

Mark Siegel’s illustrations are hauntingly beautiful. With spare text, the illustrations are expressive and really show the story. There is so much feeling captured in the characters eyes and smiles. The illustrations are uplifting.

Resources: An Author’s Note offers historical insight into the story, a glossary provides definitions of key words, and a map shows Oskar’s walk up Broadway in 1938.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s review of Oskar and the Eight Blessings, on Perfect Picture Book Friday, which will return January 8.

The Kvetch Who Stole Hanukkah

The Kvetch Who Stole Hanukkah

Bill Berlin and Susan Isakoff Berlin, authors

Peter J. Welling, illustrator

Pelican Publishing Company, Fiction, Sept. 2010

Suitable for: Ages 5-8

Themes:  Hanukkah,  Jewish Fiction, Rhyme

Opening: In the town of Oyville, in a land far away, the children prepared for each holiday.  They read about Passover and the Red Sea parting. They learned of Rosh Hashanah and the New Year starting.  But the holiday that tickled every Vicki, Max and Monica, was the Festival of Lights in the season of Hanukkah.  They liked the presents, the food, and the cheer; They liked the night when the family drew near.  They picture Judah Maccabee, his bravery and toil.  They imagined the Temple, it lights needing oil.  When the menorah shone bright, its message was clear: “A great miracle happened here.”  Not everyone in Oyville liked the celebration of Hanukkah.  Every year the town Kvetch (someone who is gloomy and complains) hated the holiday even more.  The Kvetch steals all the menorahs on the first night of Hanukkah until three children teach him the true meaning of the festival of lights.

Why I like this book:  Although it is reminiscent of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this really is a book that both Jewish and non-Jewish children will enjoy.  Written in verse, it is filled with clever  Yiddish terms like latkes, dreidels, gelt and the kvetch.  The book is simple and Welling’s illustrations are colorful and quirky.  And it carries a profound universal message.  There are many Hanukkah books in print, but I found this one a lot of fun!   Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 20 and ends December 28.

Activity:  Visit http://www.lookstein.org/resources/chanukah_activities.htm  and http://abcteach.com/directory/seasonalholidays/hanukkah/ for activities and resources.   For more books with resources please visit Perfect Picture Books.