‘The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol’
The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol By Arthur Levine. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick Press, 40 pp. Ages 5-8)
Famed author and children’s book editor Arthur Levine asks, “Why do Jewish children receive gifts on Hanukkah?” His answer is the creation of magical Nate Gadol (whose name is familiar from the dreidel’s nun and gimmel, short for nes gadol, great miracle). Cheerily depicted in Kevin Hawkes’ bright illustrations, the smiling spirit of generosity and kindness with “eyes as shiny as golden coins” makes “things last as long as they needed to,” from keeping a flower fresh to making sure a refugee family had enough chocolate for all the children during Hanukkah. And Nate, dashing in his blue revolutionary war coat, even assists Santa. The holiday figures join forces to bring treats to two impoverished immigrant families, one Christian, the other Jewish, during the winter of 1881—introducing the idea of gift giving to the Hanukkah holiday.
In a fascinating addendum to his tale, Levine describes the history of borrowing from other cultures for the Hanukkah celebration as well as the challenges of being Jewish child in America during Christmas time. Giving presents during Hanukkah, he writes, is a peculiarly American Jewish innovation.
“There’s still debate about whether or not this was a good thing,” Levine notes, “but I can raise my hand as one little boy who was anything but ambivalent.”