Chil­dren’s

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale

Eric A. Kim­mel; Matthew True­man, illus.
  • Review
By – March 30, 2015

A young boy leaves his fam­i­ly behind and sets out alone for Amer­i­ca with his knap­sack full of hard-boiled eggs, her­ring, and bread — plus a small meno­rah, a box of can­dles, match­es, a drei­del, and latkes to cel­e­brate Hanukkah dur­ing his jour­ney. But when the ship hits an ice­berg there aren’t enough lifeboats for all of the pas­sen­gers. Simon will­ing­ly gives up his seat to a man in a fur coat and as the lifeboats float away, Simon is left all alone on the ice­berg. Despite fear­ing for his life, he remem­bers the first night of Hanukkah and lights his meno­rah and spins his drei­del. When a large white polar bear swims up to him, he shares his latkes, her­ring, and bread. In return the bear pro­tects the boy and keeps him warm through the night. Six more nights fol­low with Simon cel­e­brat­ing Hanuk- kah with the bear. Then, on the eighth night of Hanukkah, Simon is res­cued — a pass­ing ship spot­ted the lights of his meno­rah! When he arrives in New York, his sto­ry appears in all of the news­pa­pers and he is reunit­ed with the man whose life he saved. The man, the may­or of New York, buys tick­ets for Simon’s fam­i­ly to join him in Amer­i­ca and gives Simon a job as the Polar Bear Keep­er at the Cen­tral Park Zoo. Which goes to show that mir­a­cles aren’t just for the Mac­cabees,” Simon tells his friends and fam­i­ly every year at Hanukkah, they can hap­pen to any­one, any­where, even in the dark­est of times. You just have to believe.” Rem­i­nis­cent of the Alger­ian folk­tale of the Sab­bath Lion,” Eric A. Kimmel’s Hanukkah ver­sion may be a bit con­trived and far-fetched, but the rich, illus­tri­ous water-col­or illus­tra­tions by Matthew True­man (When the Chick­ens Went on Strike by Eri­ca Sil­ver­man and A Pic- ture for Marc, also by Eric Kim­mel) more than make up for the improb­a­bil­i­ty of the sto­ry. The sea is dark and vast, the ice­berg is cold and daunt­ing, and the polar bear is mas­sive, but the read­er will feel the warm glow of the Hanukkah can­dles and the love between the boy and the bear. 

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 4 – 8

Rachel Kamin is the Direc­tor of the Joseph and Mae Gray Cul­tur­al & Learn­ing Cen­ter at North Sub­ur­ban Syn­a­gogue Beth El in High­land Park, Illi­nois. A past chair of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee, Rachel is cur­rent­ly the co-edi­tor of Book Reviews for Chil­dren & Teens for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries Newslet­ter. She holds a BA in his­to­ry from Grin­nell Col­lege and a master’s degree in library and infor­ma­tion sci­ence from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michigan.

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