A Hanukkah with Mazel

Joel Edward Stein; Elisa Vavouri, illus.

  • Review
By – March 24, 2017

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.

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