Review: The Extraordinary Dreidel: A Hanukkah Story from Israel

An Extraordinary Dreidel: A Hanukkah Story from Israel

by Devorah Omer, illustrated by Aviel Basil, translated by Shira Atik

Green Bean Books, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rinat Hadad Siegel

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The Extraordinary Dreidel is a fun and engaging picture book about Hanukkah for young readers. 

Devorah Omer is one of the legends in the Israeli kidlit book world. I grew up reading many of her exquisite stories, and The Extraordinary Dreidel is no different. What seems to be, at first glance, straightforward language and plot turns out to be a story that provides a level of sophistication that gets children’s attention from the start and engages their curiosity and independent thinking while igniting their imagination.

When Uncle Haim makes a soccer ball-sized wooden dreidel for Gil and Nurit, the excitement level rises, but when they find out that there is a secret compartment under the letter nun, the children are beyond themselves. The reader follows along and tries to think about different items that would fit into that space. Many suggestions come across, and even a competition to figure out the best fit for the secret compartment is planned, but in the end, the most organic and natural fit shows up in the shape of four kittens. The family’s cat, who has been in the background of the illustrations, has given birth and put her kittens in the dreidel. That was a Hanukkah miracle, so the kittens were named Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Peh after the different letters of the dreidel, and the whole community came to witness this surprise.

Shira Atik did a terrific job, not only translating from Hebrew to English, but also helping the text sound contemporary and fit for young audiences in 2023. 

The very talented Aviel Basil, who I adore, has created a Mizrahi family portrait in full swing. He has been trying to push the awareness of the different shades of Jewishness that we can find in the world in general and in Israel in particular, and that is clearly evident here. The illustrations are fun with a touch of a comic feel to them, and display much emotion on each spread. 

I highly recommend this Hanukkah book as a good read or a gift, and I find it suitable for non-Jewish audiences as well, as the emphasis is not on the details of Hanukah but on the family and community experience of holidays.

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Reviewer Rinat Hadad Siegel was born in Israel to a Jewish Mizrahi family. She is a children's book author and a former educator and resource teacher for elementary and middle-school-aged kids. Rinat received her Bachelor's Degree from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and holds a Master's in Education from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. Exploring Mizrahi roots is one of Rinat's passions, and she aspires to promote and add diverse Jewish history into children's literature.