The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band by Joan Betty Stuchner; ill. by Richard Row

The rabbi said to Yossi, Isaac, and Benny, “You must come back to play for out Hanukkah party this year. Now don’t forget!”

So we’re about half a year away from Hanukkah, and it’s definitely not winter anymore, at least not in my corner of the world. (Sunshine! Warm breezes! At last!) But I’m currently rehearsing for a production of Fiddler on the Roof and I can’t resist talking about this gem of a picturebook for any longer. The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band by Joan Betty Stuchner and illustrated by Richard Row is completely charming.

Here’s the text from the inside flap:

Oh, how Shira loves the fiddle!

Every time the Kugel Valley Klezmer Band performs, ten-year-old Shira watches closely. Isaac, the best fiddle player this side of Nova Scotia, sees her watching, and gives her a toy fiddle.

“Practice,” says Isaac. “Practice, practice, practice.”

So, secretly, Shira practices; and soon she thinks she sounds pretty good. But is she good enough for a real fiddle? Good enough for the Kugel Valley Klezmer Band? Good enough for her whole village?

Shira is about to find out!

Words and art lovingly depict a vibrant, bustling Jewish village in Nova Scotia and the music and dancing that so delighted this farming community. Shira is a determined, affectionate child and a hard-working artist who, rather than strike away from her hometown, finds welcome and support from her people. Words and pictures convey a strong sense of moment, of community, and of place as they construct a story set in a lively past era with a protagonist who is very much part of what is going on around her.

Oh, and the food – another art form. This is a very lovely story of an artist, of a family, and of a community. Words and illustrations dance with hope and with a strong sense of belonging, innovation, and continuity. Just right for Hanukkah.

(And for any other time.)