Eric Kimmel,
illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman,
Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins
(Holiday House, 1989)

Eric Kimmel uses the Yiddish folk trickster character Hershel of Ostropol (Hershel Ostropolier) to tell his original tale of how a man saved Hanukkah for a village.

Hershel of Ostropol is traveling on the first night of Hanukkah, a cold and snowy night, but he anticipates eagerly the nearby village where there will be bright menorah lights and lots of luscious potato latkes (potato pancakes) to eat.

No such luck. The village is silent and dark. The villagers explain that the old synagogue on top of the hill is haunted by goblins who hate Hanukkah and do their best to ruin it for the villagers. The only way to get rid of them is for one person to spend all eight nights of Hanukkah in the synagogue and keep the candles lit. Furthermore, on the eighth night, the king of the goblins must light the candles himself.

Hershel agrees to help them, certain that he can handle a few measly goblins. Armed with a menorah, lots of candles, some hard-boiled eggs and some pickles, Hershel makes his way up the hill. Once inside the old, crumbling building, Hershel begins to have second thoughts, but it is too late to turn back now. So, he sets up the menorah and lights the first Hanukkah candle. No sooner does he get started than the first goblin shows up.

This goblin is only as big as a horsefly, and Hershel manages to frighten him off. The goblins on the second and third nights are bigger, but none too bright, and Hershel outwits both. Kimmel doesn't describe what happens on the fourth through sixth nights, apart from mentioning that Hershel manages to outwit them as well. Then, on the seventh night, no goblins arrive, but Hershel receives a clear message from the King of the Goblins: the next night, the eighth night of Hanukkah, will be Hershel's last. But not even the King of the Goblins is a match for clever Hershel, and the spell is broken.

Kimmel is a brilliant storyteller, with an excellent ear for pace and rhythm. His sense of timing is remarkable, leavening suspense with humor. Hershel is brave and brainy, although not fearless; rather, his courage is even more evident in that he faces the task in spite of his fear. Furthermore, his sense of humor and bravado buoy him as much as his bravery. Kimmel appends a brief note to explain Hanukkah, the menorah, the dreidel -- pointing out that Hershel makes up his own rules for the purpose of chasing off a goblin -- and latkes.

Trina Schart Hyman's expressive illustrations earned her a well-deserved Caldecott Honor in 1990. Hershel is as appealing in her distinctive paintings as he is expressed through Kimmel's words, and the goblin flunkies are funny rather than frightening, apart from the King of the Goblins. Even then, Hyman suggests the Goblin King, showing Hershel's reaction rather than the Goblin King himself. The text and illustrations mesh beautifully.

Whether you observe Hanukkah or not, you'll find Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins a welcome addition to holiday festivities.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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