Misha, a poor but talented artist, lives by himself on the edge of a small village. So begins a tender and hopeful story of kindness, compassion and generosity. On a bitterly cold night before Hanukkah, Misha finds a shivering cat in his barn. “I’ll call you Mazel,” he says, knowing the cat was lucky to have found shelter. He shares what little food he has and makes a snug bed for Mazel by the fire. Too poor to buy Hanukkah candles, each night Misha paints pictures of lit candles, and then sings the blessings. On the last night of Hanukkah, Misha uses his last drop of paint, a subtle reference to the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days. The next afternoon, a peddler knocks on the door. His name is Meyer but he is a typical Elijah character — the beloved prophet in Jewish folklore who comes to the rescue of worthy individuals. Meyer pronounces Misha’s paintings “wonderful” and buys as many as will fit in his wagon. And there is more good luck: Mazel turns out to be Meyer’s lost cat, Goldie, but instead of reclaiming her, he asks Misha if he will continue to care for her. Misha is thrilled. Keeping Mazel is not a favor — it is a gift, as is this heartfelt story. The Greek-born Elisa Vavouri has illustrated more than 70 children’s books, and her fondness for cats is evident. Mazel appears on almost every page, expressing her personality and delight with her new home. The indoor scenes glow with warmth and rich colors, the snowy outdoor scenes feel bright and icy, and it is clear that love and kindness abound.
Susan Kantor was a senior writer/editor for Girl Scouts of the USA, a children’s book editor, and a past judge for the National Jewish Book Awards in the illustrated children’s book category. She is a writer and a docent at the Rubin Museum in New York City, where she leads public and private tours.