Elka Weber’s picture book MRS. MACCABEE’S MIRACLE (Kar-Ben, 2023), illustrated by Amélie Videlo, offers a fun retelling of the Hanukkah story. In the book, Mrs. Maccabee’s five sons are always losing their belongings. When it’s time for them to visit the Holy Temple, fight the Greeks, and finally obtain their jug of oil to light the menorah Mrs. Maccabee’s helpful wisdom enables them to save the day. Sure to be a favorite Hanukkah story for young readers, I am thrilled to learn more about MRS. MACCABEE’S MIRACLE.
In MRS. MACCABEE’S MIRACLE, you offer readers a fun twist on the Maccabee family. The Maccabee boys have trouble finding their misplaced personal belongings. Their mother’s advice, that items “don’t grow legs and walk away, where you leave them is where they stay” becomes pivotal for the Maccabees as the miracle of Hanukkah unfolds. What inspired this creative refrain?
The refrain of the story was inspired by a picture book I remember from my childhood. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the title of the book or much else about it. The book was set it in a little village, and if I recall correctly, a grandmother has misplaced her toddler grandson. She goes all around the town looking for him, while the townspeople say something like “where you left him, there you shall find him.” I have used some version of this all my life when I misplace things.
This book was inspired by an incident in my house on Channukah two years ago. My older son, 29 years old and blessed with perfectly fine vision, asked me if I knew where to find the milk. At the time, he was standing in front of the open refrigerator and I was on the other side of the kitchen. I pointed out that he was quite capable of finding the milk on his own. Why did he need to ask me where it was? He responded, reasonably enough, “Because you know where the milk is. ” And I did.
Later, as he left the room, he looked over at the menorah, still burning, and said, “I bet the Maccabees only found the oil because their mother knew where to look.” And boom, a book was born!
Also in the story, the Maccabees play with spinning tops. Is this a fun historical fact or a creative spin on the dreidel game?
I love the phrase “creative spin”! The historical fact is that during the era of persecution that preceded the revolt, Jews were forbidden from studying Torah. A sweet story grew up that whenever Jews met to study, they would bring spinning tops with them. This way, if they were apprehended and accused of breaking the law, they would say that they were just playing a game. The story may not be a historically accurate account of how the dreidel game got started, but it’s a nice way to tie our current practice to the origins of the holiday.
What were your thoughts when you first saw the illustrations by Amélie Videlo?
A good illustrator adds new dimensions to a story. Amélie’s illustrations create the sense of a bustling, cheerful home and a loving family. I love what she’s done. Check out some of her other work, too. She’s amazingly talented.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading MRS. MACCABEE’S MIRACLE?
First, I hope they’ll smile in recognition. Who hasn’t misplaced something at one time or another? And who hasn’t experienced that moment of joy on finding something you’d thought was lost?
Second, it’s good to be reminded that many great accomplishments begin at home. I have always thought Mrs. Maccabee deserved a little credit.
What inspires you most about Hanukkah?
In these difficult days, Hannukah reminds us that good triumphs over evil, no matter what the odds. It’s up to us to stand up for what’s right. Light a little flame, and light will eventually overcome darkness.
Thank you, Elka!
Elka Weber grew up in Montreal, Quebec, where she developed a lifelong interest in the ways that cultures interact. This led to a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies and to a lifetime of reading. She believes that there are two types of people in this world – those who give away books they’ve already read, and those who hold onto books like old friends. She falls firmly in the second camp, which is why her bookshelves are filled to overflowing. She has written four picture books – Mrs. Maccabee’s Miracle (Kar-Ben 2023) three The Yankee at the Seder (Tricycle Press, 2009), a 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor Book, One Little Chicken (Tricycle Press, 2011, a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book, and Shimri’s Big Idea (Apples and Honey Press, 2019). She has also written one academic book, and more shopping lists than she cares to remember. She is married and has five children and three grandchildren. When she’s not reading or writing, you can find Elka taking long walks in nature, cooking for a crowd, and trying to figure out where to fit another bookshelf.