The Diverse Bookshelf: The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Parakeet Named DreidelThe Parakeet Named Dreidel written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Suzanne Raphael Berkson

Today the book I’m sharing features religious diversity. While we have a lot of holiday picture books that line up with the religious and cultural celebrations that are specific to our family, but I also love to expose Cam to other holidays and celebrations. Since we aren’t about to crash Friday prayer or someone’s shabbat, I try to share books with Cam that give her a peek inside other families traditions. 

We are bird people in our house with all the chickens and ducks and the conures, so I thought this one sounded interesting. The author is very well known for his works for adults, too. That can be hit or miss with children’s book because, contrary to popular belief, writing good books for children is hard. I was delighted by the story, though.

One cold, snowy Hanukkah night a small parakeet turns up at David’s window. The family lets the bird in and spends a few weeks trying to locate the owner. The only real clue is a Yiddish phrase the bird can say (“Go to sleep, Zelda”). When no one comes forward the family keeps the bird and enjoys his company for nine years. Then, when David is off at a Hanukkah party in college, he tells the story of how they found Dreidel, the parakeet. A girl at the party, a girl David has been taking out on dates, excitedly tells him that she is the Zelda the bird knew. The next day the two families meet and Zelda’s family is overjoyed to see their beloved pet again. Except, with two attached families, who will keep the bird?

The story is set on a backdrop of Hanukkah, but it isn’t a particularly religious story. It’s really a book about how attached we can become to our pets and the joy they bring to our lives. This is a perfect theme for our family with all our animals. I like that it gives a glimpse into Hanukkah, but I wouldn’t use it as my only book about Hanukkah to teach Cam about the holiday and its significance to Jews. Still, we enjoyed the story. 

I had a couple complaints about the story. There are a few places where the text is a little overly descriptive or includes details that seem important to adults, but will just annoy kids. I think this may be a function of the story being written by an adult author or the book was originally a short story forced into picture book format. Also, it’s unlikely that the bird described would be a parakeet. They don’t live particularly long and rarely learn to speak understandable words. Its more likely that this would be a conure.

All told, I’ll be adding this to our collection and repertoire of holiday books. It was such a heartwarming story.

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