Post­ed by Nat Bern­stein

Yes, if you’re won­der­ing, my par­ents have been fol­low­ing the entire Eight Nights of Sto­ries blog series. My mom has no mem­o­ry of the night she intro­duced her chil­dren to Har­ry Pot­ter—in fact, she doesn’t recall read­ing it aloud to us at all — but she still loved the post. [Insert oblig­a­tory my-par­ents-would-love-any­thing-I-write com­ment here.] And maybe it’s bet­ter she for­got, because with­in anoth­er week she was wretched­ly dis­ap­point­ed to dis­cov­er that each of us pos­sess­ing the ade­quate read­ing skills had stolen the book to read ahead, qui­et­ly returned it to its hid­ing spot by the end of each day, and feigned inno­cence when she brought it out again at bed­time. That was the true mag­ic of The Sorcerer’s Stone: even (but not only) the mildest of kids would lit­er­al­ly lie, cheat, and steal to READ.

After read­ing about that first night, though, my moth­er remind­ed me of a book she read to us every year, each night of Chanukah. For this last install­ment of Eight Nights of Sto­ries, I think it’s nice to come full-cir­cle from that inau­gur­al intro­duc­to­ry post with anoth­er mem­o­rable Chanukah read from my own child­hood, select­ed and read aloud by my Ema.

The Pow­er of Light by Isaac Bashe­vis Singer
Nobel lau­re­ate Isaac Bashe­vis Singer craft­ed this lit­tle-known col­lec­tion for chil­dren in 1990: eight end­less­ly engag­ing tales, one for each night, set in the Poland of his youth. The Pow­er of Light is arguably the ulti­mate Chanukah book. Writ­ten for a young audi­ence and accen­tu­ate with love­ly paint­ings by Irene Lieblich, Singer’s hol­i­day sto­ries speak to read­ers of all ages, elic­it­ing as strong a response from kids as from the par­ents read­ing to them. It’s the per­fect book to share.

Hanukah Mon­ey by Scholem Ale­ichem; Uri Shule­vitz, illus.
Scholem Ale­ichem (he’s so hot right now) pro­duced his own Chanukah book the year fol­low­ing Singer’s, also delv­ing into the world he left behind. Two young broth­ers traipse about their snowy shtetl, intro­duc­ing us to a host of quirky rel­a­tives along their mis­sion to deter­mine how much gelt they’ll get for Chanukah. Yes, it’s the world of Tevye the Dairy­man from the child’s per­spec­tive, cap­tur­ing the same humor and appre­ci­a­tion for absur­di­ty of Scholem Aleichem’s sto­ries for adults. Hanukah Mon­ey is a bit of an obscure work, but sim­i­lar­ly enjoy­able for read­ers across the board.

Zlateh the Goat and Oth­er Sto­ries by Isaac Bashe­vis Singer; Mau­rice Sendak, illus.
Shulevitz’s illus­tra­tions for Hanukah Mon­ey often draws com­par­i­son the work of artist and children’s author Mau­rice Sendak, which brings us back to Isaac Bashe­vis Singer and his 1965 clas­sic, Zlateh the Goat. This col­lec­tion of Jew­ish folk­tales was the first of Singer’s com­pi­la­tions of sto­ries for chil­dren, and the mag­ic and fool­ery found with­in it have proven time­less. Writ­ten (and trans­lat­ed) sim­ply and thought­ful­ly, the text is as clear and won­drous to chil­dren now as it was half a cen­tu­ry ago.

The Sev­en Good Years: And Oth­er Sto­ries of I.L. Peretz Esther Hautzig, trans.; Deb­o­rah Kogan Ray, illus.
From anoth­er mas­ter of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture, the ten sto­ries in this col­lec­tion are both appro­pri­ate for young read­ers and dif­fer­ent enough to engage old­er chil­dren and teens. Peretz’s style is less campy and more direct­ly crit­i­cal of human behav­ior and false piety, and while this col­lec­tion adapts his work for chil­dren, the sto­ries retain their sophis­ti­ca­tion and mature appeal.


After the kids are asleep…

It’s been a great year for Scholem Ale­ichem. I could rec­om­mend sev­er­al new biogra­phies or antholo­gies, but it prob­a­bly doesn’t get any bet­ter than biographer/​Yiddishist Jere­my Daubers hand­picked selec­tion: If You Read Just Ten Sto­ries by Scholem Ale­ichem.

It’s also well worth your while to (re)discover I.B.’s old­er broth­er with the recent repub­li­ca­tion of The Broth­ers Ashke­nazi by I.J. Singer. This ground­break­ing Yid­dish nov­el on sib­ling rela­tion­ships rivaled Mar­garet Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind on The New York Times Best Sell­er list when the Eng­lish trans­la­tion was first pub­lished in 1936, and the craft and themes of I.J. Singer’s writ­ing remain eter­nal­ly strik­ing and rel­e­vant in this new edition.


Want to view the entire Eight Nights of Sto­ries series all in one place? Click here.

Nat Bern­stein is the for­mer Man­ag­er of Dig­i­tal Con­tent & Media, JBC Net­work Coor­di­na­tor, and Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and a grad­u­ate of Hamp­shire College.