Ben Izzy, Joel. Dreidels on the Brain
October 4th 2016 by Dial Books
Life is difficult for Joel in 1971. His parents are older and constantly in and out of the hospital, and his father can't work because of his disabilities, although he tries to invent things. At first, Joel just wants to have a happy Hanukkah (no matter how it's spelled), and possibly get the collapsible top hat he has been wanting for his budding magician business, but when his father's health takes a turn for the worse, he has larger issues. His brother Howard is always locked away studying, and the situation at school can be tense, since he is the only Jewish student there. He is also taking religious education so he can be a bar mitzvah. The Hanukkah that unfolds is not really the one he wants, but an encounter with an elderly man on the bus makes him realize that life isn't as bad as he has been thinking.
Strengths: There were so many wonderful details about life at this time that I adored this! There are not as many books about Jewish students as I would like to have, so this is a welcome addition. I liked that it had Holocaust survivors-- our 8th grade studies the Holocaust, but little attention is given to what happens afterward. I can see this book being popular because it's just funny.
Weaknesses: The story rambles a bit-- the author is a professional storyteller, so a lot of this would be better read out loud.
What I really think: Glad to have a copy. I don't see it being wildly popular, but I can see this being a regular circulator on my shelves for many years.
We do not have many Jewish students in my school, although I usually have one or two a year who are very interested in their heritage. This is similar to the demographic make up of my schools growing up. Interestingly, I was in first grade when I met my first Jewish classmate-- Karen Rosenbloom. Her mother came to our class and made latkes. My only reaction to this was "Okay. I didn't know there were other religions. Huh." It never occurred to me to make fun of her or think anything bad about her religion. I had the same reaction when I moved in the third grade and met my first Catholics in my new community.
There is something to be said for introducing children to differences at a young age. If I had made it to 12 believing that everyone in the world was Methodist, maybe I would have reacted differently. My students today don't understand why people were worried about John F. Kennedy being president, but my grandmother publicly averred that she would not have Catholics in her home. There were fireworks when my mother came home from college and crossed herself at the dinner table. She was Presbyterian, a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and not the most open minded person.