Most stories that bring history to life are okay in my book, but this one which blends the American Revolution with a much more ancient rebellion, is excellent. Within, George Washington, while looking out over his suffering troops at Valley Forge, sees a light burning in one shelter and finds a young Jewish soldier celebrating the first day of Hanukkah. The tale is based on the journal entry of a young woman who dined with George Washington a year later. He related such an event during the meal.
Hanukkah is celebrated annually by millions of Jews all around the globe. It commemorates the successful Maccabean Rebellion. In the 167 BC, Judea was under Greek rule. The Jewish temple was ransacked, and the emperor forbade the Jews from worshipping according to their custom. A small band of Jewish peasants fought back and drove out the mighty oppressors. Then the temple was purified and rededicated, and the lampstand that was never supposed to go out was relit, though they only had enough oil to last one day. According to tradition, however, the oil lasted eight days, until more was found. Today, the Jewish people commemorate these events by lighting candles each evening of this eight-day holiday, which usually falls in December (this year Dec. 21-28).
In Hanukkah at Valley Forge, Krensky aligns the Jewish and American rebellions. The stories run parallel to each other, one on blue pages, the other on yellow. They are strikingly similar. In the end, George Washington draws a measure of hope from the ancient tale.
This is a fantastic book from several angles. My son and I read it this year in conjunction with a Revolutionary War history unit. It’s also a great way to become familiar with another culture. But my son and I especially liked it because our family studied Hanukkah two years ago and we’ve celebrated it ever since. No, we’re not Jewish, but it’s a fun family holiday, and the Christian faith shares a history with the Jewish people.
Regardless of your religion, this beautifully-illustrated, cleverly-crafted picture book is a worthwhile read. I would recommend a third or fourth grade audience to fully grasp the historical and political comparisons made within.