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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Chanukah Tales from Oykvetchnik is a collection of original Yiddish folk stories written by Scott Hilton Davis and illustrated by Amy F. Levine. Davis grew up loving the tales of Sholem Aleichem, I.L. Peretz, Sholem Abramovitsh and Jacob Dinezon, and has devoted his life to sharing the stories he’s collected as well as presenting his own folk tales. Oykvetchnik is a fictional village, or shtetl, set in the Old Country, which is described by the author as the little villages of Russia and Eastern Europe, and the tales in this collection celebrate Davis’ favorite Jewish holiday, Chanukah. This holiday has many fond memories for him, especially lighting the chanukiyah, eating his mother’s fried latkes and playing dreidl as a young boy. His stories reflect those memories and illuminate them for his audience. His first tale, Chaim the Chanukiyah, tells the story of a battered old chanukiyah which had spent all its life in a book peddler’s wagon until finally it's given to Reb Shimon for the village’s synagogue.
In his collection of original Jewish folk stories, Chanukah Tales from Oykvetchnik, Scott Hilton Davis brings to life the little village of Oykvetchnik and shares a glimpse into the village’s celebration of the Festival of Lights with his readers. From the moment I started reading Chaim’s story, I was hooked by the stories and the history I was learning about this special holiday, as well as the culture and lifestyle found in the shtetls. Davis’s stories are grand fun for reading aloud, and Amy Levine’s black and white drawings work perfectly with each tale. While some stories are delightfully whimsical, such as Myzeleh the Mouse, the tale of Peter Markovich the Soldier highlights the ill-treatment and suffering the inhabitants of villages like Oykvetchnik were subjected to; in Peter’s case, it came as a result of his being forcibly drafted into Tsar Nikolai’s army. Laced through the collection is humor, faith, miracles and love, and freshly fried latkes that had my mouth watering as I read. Chanukah Tales from Oykvetchnik is most highly recommended.