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.