Allison's Book Bag

Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue by Heidi Smith Hyde

Posted on: March 9, 2013

Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue is yet another holiday picture book. Its unique approach to the Jewish celebration is what makes it a worthy addition. Author Heidi Smith Hyde received her inspiration from an article about Jewish involvement in the New England whaling industry. She was fascinated by this glimpse into the lives of her ancestors, and her readers will feel similarly intrigued by this lesser known aspect of American history.

Hyde makes a connection between the dangers of religious persecution and the dangers of being a whaler. Because it was illegal to celebrate the Jewish religion in their homeland of Portugal, Emanuel’s family and neighbors remain afraid to light the Shabbat candles except when their shades are drawn. Likewise, Emanuel’s father cautions him that the life of a whaler can be lonely and dangerous and instead encourages to be a merchant like him. In making this connection, Hyde turns what could have been an ordinary holiday book into a unique melding of cultures.

To the average eye (or at least mine), the somber but hopeful pastel chalk illustrations vividly compliment the story. However, The Jewish Book Council did make this criticism: “Though the text refers more than once to whale-oil menorahs, the impressionistic illustrations seem to show ordinary wax candles in the menorahs.”

Emanuel and the Hanukkah Rescue touches on numerous topics, but because only as necessary to tell the story, many readers may have questions. This could lead to discussion about persecution, immigration, the whaling industry, and more. At the same time, this gripping story addresses the universal theme of standing up for one’s beliefs and conquering fears.

My rating? Read it. Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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