Who is the Ziz? He is the king of all the birds--a large and fabulous creature who lived long, long ago in Jewish mythology. Whenever the Ziz has a problem, he goes to Mount Sinai to seek God's advice. In his latest adventure, The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle, this giant yellow bird has a hard time dealing with the darkness of winter. God gives him an oil lamp, but then asks him to share it. With the personality of an exuberant preschooler, the Ziz finds his task very difficult. The result is a new spin on the Hanukkah story.
How did the miracle of Hanukkah occur? The story offers no explanation. All we know is that the oil that was supposed to last only one day sustained the Temple menorah for eight wonderful days. Many interpret the story to mean that a little bit of oil burned for eight days. Others interpret it to mean that the cruse used to fill the menorah with oil never became empty.
With no clear explanation, there is room for a midrash--a story which expands on a biblical text by offering details or commentary. A midrash can explain the significance of a single word. Some provide folkloric extensions to the original bible stories. The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle is a modern midrash which gives the giant yellow Ziz a pivotal role in the Hanukkah story.
The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle is the third in a series about the Ziz by Jacqueline Jules of Arlington, Virginia, and Katherine Janus Kahn of Wheaton, Maryland. The Ziz made his first appearance in 2001 in The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story, a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and an Association of Jewish Libraries Notable Book for Young Readers. The San Diego Jewish Times review of The Hardest Word called it "a delightful tale, featuring a loveable, klutzy bird teaching the essential lessons of the High Holidays." The Ziz made his second appearance in 2005 in Noah and the Ziz, a book highly recommended by the Church and Synagogue Library Association in a review which quoted the response of a preschool child who said "It's awesome!" A review in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle simply states, "We love the Ziz!"
Reviews for The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle have been just as enthusiastic. Kirkus Reviews said, "Jules incorporates the theme of sharing, as well as apologizing, in a droll version of a holiday tale." Church and Synagogue Libraries said, "Children will be captivated by the attractive pictures of the Ziz and will love listening to the tale, one that lends itself to reading aloud." Washington Parent said, "Jacqueline Jules and Katherine Kahn team up for another delightful tale of a wacky bird." The Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries recommended The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle on its list of "Great Hanukkah Books for Kids."
Jacqueline Jules and Katherine Janus Kahn's first book together, Once Upon a Shabbos, was awarded an Honorable Mention by the Sugarman Family Children's Book Awards for Jewish Literature. Ms. Jules knew of Ms. Kahn as the illustrator of the widely popular Sammy Spider Series, but they did not meet until months after the publication of Once Upon a Shabbos. They were surprised to find out that they both live in the Washington, DC area--about forty minutes apart.
Because editors make all the arrangements with the artists, authors and illustrators frequently work independently and in isolation. However, now that the Ziz has become a series, Ms. Jules and Ms. Kahn have become good friends. Both feel that being part of a creative team in which each respects the other is exhilarating. Ms. Kahn says that as an illustrator, she knows the story even better than the author because she has to visualize every action described. Ms. Jules wholeheartedly agrees, saying "Katherine gave the Ziz a face and a physical presence I had not imagined. She made the Ziz so expressive and exuberant in the illustrations, I just had to find other stories for him."
Ms. Kahn and Ms. Jules appear together in presentations in the Washington metropolitan area, where they discuss the birth of the Ziz and collaboration between authors and illustrators. They always bring along a large stuffed Ziz and a flannel board activity in which young audience members simulate the process of designing the Ziz.
"The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle is a clever attempt to explain the Hanukkah miracle of the oil that lasted eight days. . . . The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle is not a conventional Hanukkah story, but the value of friendship, working together, and even Tikkun Olam are nicely woven into the story. The illustrations are bold, colorful and full of light." -- Jewish Book Council. Read the full review.
"'The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle' is a very good book for children ages 4-8. It does an excellent job highlighting the menorah which is a big part of the Hanukkah holiday." -- Story Buzz, December 14, 2009. Read the full review.