A Hanukkah with Mazel
Misha, a poor artist, has no one to celebrate Hanukkah with until he discovers a hungry cat in his barn. The lucky little cat, whom Misha names Mazel, inspires Misha to turn each night of Hanukkah into something special. He doesn’t have money for Hanukkah candles, but he can use his artistic skills to bring light to his home—as Mazel brings good luck to his life.
|Interest Level||Preschool - Grade 2|
|Reading Level||Grade 2|
|Genre||Fiction, Picture Books|
|Publisher||Lerner Publishing Group|
|Imprint||Kar-Ben Publishing ®|
|Number of Pages||32|
Jewish Book Council
“Misha, a poor but talented artist, lives by himself on the edge of a small village. So begins a tender and hopeful story of kindness, compassion and generosity. On a bitterly cold night before Hanukkah, Misha finds a shivering cat in his barn. ‘I’ll call you Mazel,’ he says, knowing the cat was lucky to have found shelter. He shares what little food he has and makes a snug bed for Mazel by the fire. Too poor to buy Hanukkah candles, each night Misha paints pictures of lit candles, and then sings the blessings. On the last night of Hanukkah, Misha uses his last drop of paint, a subtle reference to the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days. The next afternoon, a peddler knocks on the door. His name is Meyer but he is a typical Elijah character—the beloved prophet in Jewish folklore who comes to the rescue of worthy individuals. Meyer pronounces Misha’s paintings ‘wonderful’ and buys as many as will fit in his wagon. And there is more good luck: Mazel turns out to be Meyer’s lost cat, Goldie, but instead of reclaiming her, he asks Misha if he will continue to care for her. Misha is thrilled. Keeping Mazel is not a favor—it is a gift, as is this heartfelt story. The Greek-born Elisa Vavouri has illustrated more than 70 children’s books, and her fondness for cats is evident. Mazel appears on almost every page, expressing her personality and delight with her new home. The indoor scenes glow with warmth and rich colors, the snowy outdoor scenes feel bright and icy, and it is clear that love and kindness abound.”—Jewish Book Council
School Library Journal
“Misha is a poor artist living in a tiny cottage on the outskirts of the Eastern European village of Grodno. The locals are unable to afford his artwork, but he subsists on the potatoes from his garden and the milk from his old cow, Klara. When a lost cat wanders into his barn, Misha shares what little he has with her and names her Mazel, meaning luck. On the first night of Hanukkah, Misha fries potato latkes in oil and shares them with Mazel. While he has his grandfather’s beautiful silver menorah, he does not have any candles to light for the holiday. “I may not have candles but I am an artist, and an artist has paint!” So Misha paints a picture of his menorah, and on each night of Hanukkah, he adds a flame to the appropriate candle. But he is worried he will not have enough paint to last for all eight nights. As with the miracle of the oil in the Hanukkah story, he has just enough paint so that on the last night of the holiday, all eight candles in his picture are lit, plus the shammash. The next day, Meyer the peddler knocks on the door and offers to buy Misha’s paintings to sell to his customers. When Meyer sees Mazel, he immediately recognizes her as his lost cat, Goldie. Luckily, he realizes how happy she is with Misha and asks him to take care of her. Misha is relieved—Mazel has certainly brought him luck this Hanukkah season! The sophisticated watercolor illustrations depict shtetl life and beautifully complement the text. VERDICT Though very little information is included about the history and customs of Hanukkah, this is a heartwarming tale for readers of all faiths.”―School Library Journal
The Horn Book Magazine
“A hamish, warm, old-fashioned Hanukkah story.”—The Horn Book
“In the outskirts of Grodno in what is now Belarus, a poor artist named Misha goes into his ramshackle barn and discovers a starving stray cat curled up next to his milk cow. Soon Misha and the cat, which he dubs Mazel (Hebrew for luck), are fast friends, and together they celebrate Hanukkah. There are just enough potatoes for a plate of latkes (‘Mazel gave a ‘meow’of approval and licked her whiskers’) but no candles for grandfather’s elaborate silver menorah, so Misha paints a picture of one, adding a candle to the image for each night. This happy but meager existence takes an unexpected turn when an art-loving peddler appears at Misha’s door. Vavouri’s drawings, with their rough-hewn textures and Fiddler on the Roof aesthetic, are the real draw in newcomer Stein’s otherwise slight story. Misha and Mazel’s wiry bodies, bright eyes, and optimistic spirit mark them as instant soul mates.”—Publishers Weekly
“Hanukkah stories often center around family, but this one cleverly puts a new twist on the meaning of the word. . . . A fresh take on a very old holiday.”—Booklist
The Washington Post
“The old-world charm of the drawings combines harmoniously with the holiday tale emphasizing the power of kindness and compassion.” –The Washington Post
Author: Joel Edward Stein
Joel Stein is a former staff writer for CTB/McGraw-Hill. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, he lives in Florida with his wife, son, two birds, and a tortoise. His books include A Hanukkah with Mazel, The Pigeon Man, and The Capture of Rafael Ortega.
Illustrator: Elisa Vavouri
Elisa Vavouri was born in Athens, Greece. She studied art, graphic design, and painting at the Vakalo Art and Design College in Athens. She has illustrated more than 70 books. She lives in Germany.