Golden Dreidel spins!
Book today, Musical Zoom Monday, Ice Cream in Brooklyn Tuesday . . .
. . . and Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, begins on Sunday, Nov. 28th!
I got my first Chanukah present early this year: a sparkly new edition of my old book The Golden Dreidel, from Charlesbridge Publishing:
If that title seems familiar, well, the story began life as a live stage show that I wrote in 1999 with Shirim Klezmer orchestra, inspired by their album Klezmer Nutcracker, which returned the Tchaikovsky dances to their ethnic roots, through a raucous klezmer filter.
One of my life goals is to be the narrator for a performance of Peter and the Wolf. Since that had not yet happened, I decided to write my own story-with-music, for me to narrate. So I did to the Nutcracker story what Shirim had done to its music. Clara at a Christmas party becomes Sara at a Chanukah party. Mysterious Uncle Drosselmayer becomes charismatic Tante Miriam,1 a wanderer who arrives with presents for all the children—for Sarah, instead of a Nutcracker Prince, a Golden Dreidel Princess!
As for Part II: Originally I was going to follow the ballet, having Sarah sit and watch a story unfold. But keyboardist Michael McLaughlin spake unto me in the coffeeshop in Davis Square, crying: “No! She’s gotta kick ass! She’s gotta have adventures!”
He was right, of course.
Our show, entitled The Golden Dreydl: a Klezmer Nutcracker for Chanukah, then became a national public radio holiday special, which became an album, (which got us more touring gigs) . . . then Charlesbridge asked me to turn my script into a book. There’s more, but I’ll spare you the details: For the Golden Dreydl/Dreidel’s various incarnations, including photos from the multi-cast New York stage production (2008-2010), see my Golden Dreydl web page.
So can you come to my (virtual) party on Monday?
I know it’s late notice, but all you have to do is click on Brookline Booksmith to register in advance for a free Zoom link to the conversation with Michael (yes, that Michael), his accordion, & me.
Brookline Booksmith has sent me bookplates to sign if you buy the book online from them in advance—and you’ll be supporting a great indie bookstores.
You can buy The Golden Dreidel in all the usual places, too, including online. But please support your local bookstore when possible!
My second early present was a glowing review this week
from the influential School Library Journal.
It begins with a description of the plot (which I know you’ve been patiently waiting for, and thank you for that)
Sara is celebrating Chanukah with her family when a mysterious relative named Tante Miriam shows up with a special gift: a golden dreidel as big as a book! While everyone else is sleeping, the dreidel turns into a free-spirited girl with golden hair who guides Sara to a magical world through a portal in the television. When Sara arrives in the dreidel girl’s world, she witnesses her new friend being kidnapped by the Demon King and his army. Sara is determined to rescue her, and embarks on a quest to find the dreidel girl. Along the way, Sara meets a cast of characters inspired by Jewish folklore and Hebrew Bible tales, such as The Fool, a peacock, [King Solomon] and the Queen of Sheba.
But then, oh then! please hold me!!! the review concludes:
“This magical middle grade Chanukah story, a Jewish spin on The Nutcracker, will delight not only fantasy readers, but those who enjoy witty humor and challenging riddles. Non-Jewish readers will also enjoy learning all about the significance and rules of how to play the popular Chanukah game of dreidel. Fans of fantasy classics like Coraline, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Phantom Tollbooth will feel at home with The Golden Dreidel.”
I nearly cried when I read this. Because this is the book I was trying to write all along, the story I was trying to tell: a children’s fantasy rich in Jewish themes and values, drawing on Jewish folklore and ethics, that had the frisson of a magical adventure anyone would dream of!
I worked hard to make sure that there was clear representation across the spectrum of Jewish identity, insisting that the illustrator make my modern Jewish Sara’s hair frizzy, that the Queen of Sheba be obviously and elegantly Black; Tante Miriam speaks a polyglot of phrases from Jewish languages around the world, not just Yiddish but Ladino2 . . . My favorite character, though, is The Fool. He is a product of my upbringing, the snappy wise-guy Bronx attitude my Dad & his brother Ron sometimes let shine through, embodied in the book by a trickster (who might be just a little modeled on Danny Kaye) : hapless and capable, wise and foolish . . . with just a dash of the Golux from James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks. The final riddle the Fool poses is a family favorite:
What looks like a box, smells like a lox, and flies?
You’ll never guess.
For New Yorkers, a live reading on Tuesday
On Tuesday, 11/16, in Brooklyn, Ample Hills Creamery is hosting me & two other terrific writers in their Rooftop Reading Series.
Your $10 admission (which must be purchased online in advance, or no treats for youuuu) also nets you a serving of flavors like Maple Bourbon Barrel, Coffee Toffee Coffe…and of course, No Sleep Til Pumpkin. The reading starts at 7:00 p.m.
The music, the words, and both together
Be honest: How many Winter Holiday days does it take before you swear that if you have to listen to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite one more time you’re going to rip those elevator speakers out with your bare teeth?
Yeah, I know.
What Shirim did with the well-known tunes is both hilarious and musically brilliant. The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy becomes a dirge-like tuba lament—in The Golden Dreydl: A Klezmer Nutcracker for Chanukah we used it for the ominous entrance of the Demon King. (You can hear a little clip of it here on the Amazon page; it’s Track 7: Off In the Distance. )
You can also hear the complete story with music on Spotify. (In fact…. look! I think I just figured out how to put it here in the newsletter! Let me know if it works.)
Friends tell me that their kids are capable of listening to this musical story over and over (and over and over….) . . . eventually, though, they will fall asleep.
Want just the original music? Here’s Shirim’s original Klezmer Nutcracker, on Spotify.
Well! That’s enough promotion and amusing backstory for one letter, isn’t it?
Are you still there?
Stick around: I’m already working on my next letter, which is probably going to be about how Musicals got me through the Pandemic.
You know what?
Stick around anyway. You are valuable on this earth. There’s no one really like you.
And that’s a good place to stop.
Yes, that Miriam: sister of Moses, who in folklore was a prophet and a magician.
Ah, phooey! I’ve just realized I left out Hebrew and Aramaic! But no backsies; it’s already in print.