A fantasy for younger chapter-book readers, this takeoff of The Nutcracker is a Jewish-themed adventure into the magical world of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Sara’s mysterious Tante Miriam makes a surprise appearance at her family’s Chanukah dinner. Miriam has unusual gifts for all the children, but offers a huge golden dreydl to Sara that disappoints her. After a tussle over the dreydl breaks the TV screen, Sara is held responsible, and the dreydl, who has taken her real form of an enchanted princess, guides Sara through the broken television set and into a world of fantasy.
The princess turns out to be the daughter of the king and queen and she is promptly kidnapped by a flying horde of demons and their king, Ashmedai (demon king of Talmudic legend and purported adversary of Solomon). A Fool comes to Sara’s aid, listens to her story, and they find sufficient common bonds, including an affinity for solving riddles, to embark on a mission to rescue the princess/dreydl from the demons’ clutches. After some rousing adventures, the rescuers succeed in entering the demon king’s lair, and find the princess and many other captives spinning like dreydls, helpless to stop. The demons, too, are riddlers, and so it’s a good thing that Sara and The Fool are talented puzzlesolvers. The conclusion is satisfying, as Sara returns home with lessons learned, the TV fixed, and the realization that boring old Chanukah parties can be significantly more fun. The author, an established award-winning fantasy writer for teens and adults, does an admirable job of combining Jewish folklore and holiday traditions with an appealing fantasy story for young readers. The delightful black and white line drawings that are sprinkled throughout the text provide further entry into the magical world that Kushner has created. A useful glossary of Jewish terms is included. For ages 8 – 10.