Originally published as one of eight Hanukkah stories in Singer’s The Power of Light in 1980, “The Parakeet Named Dreidel” has been seamlessly transformed into a winsome picture book, expanding the age range so now more readers will be able to enjoy the master storyteller’s work.
All the candles are lit in the menorah on the windowsill in wintry Brooklyn, New York when David and his father rescue a parakeet which appears on the other side of the glass. The bird brings instant laughter and joy this last night of Hanukkah, chattering “Zeldele go to sleep” in Yiddish and even pushing a dreidel around with its beak. With trepidation, David waits as his father posts signs in neighboring elevators, reaching out to someone who may have lost their pet. When, to everyone’s relief, no one claims the bird, Dreidel becomes part of their family for many years. And then, one winter night in college, David serendipitously meets Zelda, the bird’s original owner. The story ends happily.
Clever page breaks highlight the humor in the father’s narration, where not one word of Singer’s text has been cut. Expressive cartoon line drawings, filled with color and warmth, dance through the pages with Dreidel. Berkson fills in the unspoken, as when she brings action into nine wordless frames to picture how “We became more attached to him from day to day.” Adults who have lovingly shared the un-illustrated tale with children in the past will celebrate how the affectionate playfulness and bright pages extend the reach to younger listeners now, too.
Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.