Review: Shield of the Maccabees

Shield of the Maccabees: A Hanukkah Graphic Novel

by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Dov Smiley

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House)

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Leah Cypess

"All history books," Dara Horn has written, "fact or fiction, are really about the times in which they are written, not about the times they supposedly describe." This is particularly true when it comes to historical fiction, and it's very true about Shield of the Maccabees, Eric Kimmel and Dov Smiley's graphic novel about a friendship between a Greek boy and a Jewish boy that is fractured by the conflict between the Greeks and the Jewish Maccabees.
Kimmel uses this framework to tell a story about friendship transcending differences -- a story that should appeal greatly to its intended modern-day audience, although the main message might have made little sense to its historical characters.
Its main point aside, this vivid, fast-moving book includes plenty of authentic and well-researched historical facts. Greek myths, sports, and methods of teaching are all brought into the boys' story and relationship. Jonathan and Jason are both well-drawn, relatable characters, brought to life by fun, exciting drawings. The author builds up both their friendship and the roots of the conflict before the story gets serious; once it does, the horrors of war are also touched upon in an age-appropriate and non-graphic way.
This book meets the criteria for consideration for a Sydney Taylor Book Award; it is essentially a modern Jewish retelling of an ancient Jewish story, and modern American-Jewish children will both enjoy the book and learn from it.
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Reviewer Leah Cypess's debut middle-grade novel, THORNWOOD, was published in April 2021 by Delacorte/Random House; her next middle grade book, GLASS SLIPPERS, will be published in April 2022. Leah also writes Judaica books under the pen name "Leah Sokol."