Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hanukkah Story: Latkes and Applesauce by Fran Manuskin

It happened long ago in a village far away where there lived a family named Menashe. Papa and Mama were tailors who had two children, Rebecca and Ezra.

It is almost Hanukkah when a tremendous blizzard strikes--"as if Heaven's featherbed had burst!" Although the menorah and dreidel are ready for the traditional celebration, the potatoes are covered by the deep snow and the apples are few. It seems there will be no latkes and applesauce for Hanukkah this year.

"No latkes?" said Papa. "Ah, well, then let us sip our soup."

As the family lights the first candle in the menorah and gathers around their meagre holiday meal, a plaintive "mew" is heard, and the children rush to the door to find a wet and cold orange kitten on the stoop. "Cats are one of God's creatures. Of course, we will care for her," says Papa.

The kitten is fed a bit of the milk Mama has saved for the children. But the storm continues to rage the next day. "I am not complaining," said Papa, "but I would love to wrap my mouth around a latke. Miracles have happened before."

That day a skinny brown dog also appears at their door, and although the family has little left to eat but one loaf of bread, they take in the starving dog and share what they have with him as well. The storm continues six more days, and the family has nothing left but breadcrumbs for breakfast. "Now, now," says Papa, "Where there is life, there is hope!"

And hope there is on the eighth day, when the snow stops and the sun comes out. Dressing in their warmest coats, the family ventures out with their dog and cat. Their kindness is repaid when the dog begins to dig in the snow and uncovers a plenitude of potatoes. "It is a dog's nature to dig," says Papa. "Latkes tonight!"

As they begin to gather the potatoes happily, Ezra hears the kitten mewing from the top of the apple tree. "It's a kitten's nature to climb and cry to come down, and it is a person's nature to help her," says Papa, cheerfully climbing up the branches.

And, of course, in the top of the tree with the kitten he finds many apples. "A miracle," says Papa. In short order the potatoes and apples are peeled and the latkes are fried in the bit of oil Mama has saved for the celebration. The family enjoys their Hanukkah meal at last, sharing it with their brown dog, newly named Latke and their orange kitten, now named Applesauce.

"Now, was this a miracle? Who can say? It happened and that is miracle enough for anyone."

Fran Manuskin's Hannukah Story (Latkes And Applesauce) is the sort of old-fashioned cozy tale, with just a touch of suspense, which will appeal to young children. Details of the homey Hanukkah celebration are seamlessly tucked in to the story, and Robin Spowart's soft, stylized illustrations add to the folkloric flavor of the narrative. A full-fledged appendix provides not only a "History of the Holiday of Hanukkah," but a delicious-sounding recipe for potato latkes and a full description of "How to Play Dreidel," including the Hebrew characters on the dreidel and the Yiddish words for which they stand and why this game is associated with the holiday.

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