Jesse's Star

Jesse's Star

5.0 1
by Ellen Schwartz, Kirsti

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Jesse's project about his immigrant ancestors is due tomorrow and he hasn't started. In a last-ditch effort to find some information about his great-great grandfather, Yossi, Jesse rummages through the mess in the attic until he finds a little battered travel case, full of pictures, and something else—a Star of David. At first it looks plain and unimportant, but


Jesse's project about his immigrant ancestors is due tomorrow and he hasn't started. In a last-ditch effort to find some information about his great-great grandfather, Yossi, Jesse rummages through the mess in the attic until he finds a little battered travel case, full of pictures, and something else—a Star of David. At first it looks plain and unimportant, but as he holds it in his hand, the star begins to glow. Jesse is in for the surprise, and adventure, of his life as he finds himself becoming the star's first owner, his own great-great grandfather.

Editorial Reviews

San Diego Jewish Times
"An exciting time warp tale...A fun book that packs a powerful lesson."
The Active Page
"[The ending] is SO exciting that I would like you to read the book for yourself so that you can find out!"
CM Magazine
"Young readers will be readily drawn into the well-crafted plot and will be easily able to find a personal connection to Jesse and his present-day dilemma."
Resource Links
"The plot is fast-paced and well-structured...The story of Yossi's mishaps and heroism is credible and engaging, as is the description of Russian Jewish culture and the village's way of life."
Quill & Quire
"Shwartz's...depiction of the village has all the gusto and sprightly characterization of a folk tale...This optimistic tale of Jewish immigration fills a niche with its appealing warmth and energy."
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Searching the attic for family records needed for a school project, Jesse finds an old Star of David on a gold chain. Fastening the chain around his neck, Jesse is suddenly transported to the Russian village of Braslav in the year 1890. Jesse becomes his great-great-grandfather Yossi, a fun-loving boy who happens to be a bit clumsy. Yossi owns a pair of stilts and is anxious to show off his agility. First, he knocks over his mother's wash basin with the stilts. Later, he accidentally knocks over the village sukkah, the booth erected to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. However, when a chance comes to divert the Russian soldiers guarding the village, Yossi becomes a hero. He dresses up like the Russian witch, Baba Yaga, and becomes a terrifying tall figure on a dark night. This daring act enables the Jewish villagers to flee the persecution in Russia and ultimately find their way across the sea to Canada. This entertaining chapter book is fast-paced and humorous enough for even reluctant readers. The time travel element makes it too fanciful to be considered pure historical fiction, but it is pure fun. An author's note provides a short history of the Jewish people in Russia. 2000, Orca Book Publishers, Ages 8 to 11, $4.50. Reviewer: Jackie Hechtkopf—Children's Literature
Twelve-year-old Jesse has twenty-four hours to complete a school report on his family's origins. Armed with slim details from his frenzied working mother, Jesse resigns himself to searching the attic for any artifacts or clues of his family's past. When he stumbles upon a tarnished, careworn Star of David necklace, Jesse's adventure begins... will he find the answers he seeks before time runs out? The discovery of the necklace transports Jesse back to a time rich with the challenges of history. As Jesse temporarily inhabits the body and mind of his great-great-grandfather, Yossi Mendelsohn, when he also was twelve years old, he sees firsthand that life in late nineteenth-century Russia was difficult. Starvation and poverty ravaged villages, and families were under constant scrutiny by the occupying soldiers. Labeled "Jewish devils," the villagers practiced religion secretly for fear of retaliation. It seemed as if these industrious farmers would never get relief. Would the Mendelsohns and their village ever find peace and freedom? Yossi exhibits all of Jesse's qualities—he is loving, inquisitive, and ultimately helpful—while overcoming his youthful awkwardness to help his village in ways he never imagined possible. Young readers will enjoy Jesse's time-traveling adventure for the sheer curiosity of discovering what will happen next. In the tradition of Caroline Cooney's Time-Travel Trilogy (Delacorte, 1995-1996), Schwartz has managed successfully to weave historical fact into compelling fiction. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2000, Orca, 108p, $4.50 Trade pb. Ages 12 to 14.Reviewer: Beth Gilbert

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)

School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-Jesse thinks it's dumb that his teacher wants him to find out when and why his relatives immigrated to Canada and, true to form, he has waited until the last minute to work on his assignment. His mother tells him that his ancestors were poor Jews escaping the pogroms in Russia at the end of the 19th century and she suggests that he look in the attic for his great-great-grandfather Yossi's traveling case. Inside the case, Jesse is disappointed to find only a faded photograph and a tarnished Star of David on a chain. When he fastens it around his neck, however, he is suddenly transported back in time to the Jewish village of Braslav as his relative. Like Jesse, Yossi is something of a troublemaker, but when Russian soldiers desecrate the village celebration of Sukkot by burning the holy prayer books, he decides he must help his family and neighbors escape. He succeeds by playing on the soldiers' own superstitions to outwit them, allowing his family to get away, and bringing Jesse back to the present with a new appreciation for his ancestors. Well written, fast paced, and a manageable length, this time-travel book is just right for those looking for an easy read with a Jewish theme. An author's note provides a brief introduction to the history of Jews in Russia. Black-and-white pencil sketches are particularly effective at capturing the dramatic plight of the villagers.-Teri Markson, Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School, Los Angeles Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Jesse's "dumb" homework assignment, put off as usual until the last minute, is to write a report about how his family arrived in Canada and what conditions were like in their country of origin. He's panicky about getting the assignment done, but not interested in relatives who have been dead for years.

Jesse's unsympathetic mother is on her way to a big meeting; he's been told repeatedly not to procrastinate. She does tell him that his relatives came from Russia at the end of the nineteenth century and sends him to the attic to see what he might find in a small box. Grumbling, Jesse searches until he finds what appears to be a traveling case that belonged to Yossi Mendelsohn, his great-great grandfather, who left Russia for Canada when he was about Jesse's age. He finds a yellowed picture of Yossi and his family on the day they arrived in Canada in 1890, and a cloth bag containing a Star of David on a chain. At first he thinks, "Big deal. What's so special about an old Jewish star? But he took a closer look, and saw gold glinting out from under the dull brown tarnish. And was he imagining it, or did his palm feel warm where the star lay?" Jesse puts the chain around his neck and is transformed into Yossi, living a century earlier in the village of Braslav.

Yossi is a clumsy boy who desperately wants to be useful, but his efforts are often disastrous, particularly when he tries to help on stilts. Like many Jewish families, those in Braslav are victims of persecution at the hands of the cruel soldiers. Their food is stolen and their holy books are burned. They know their only hope is to escape to Canada. The quick-thinking young Yossi has his chance to be a hero. He secretly listens to the camped Russian soldiers, learns what they fear most, and gives them a good scare while the villagers escape. The Rebbe gives him the Star of David for his heroism.

Back in the attic, Jesse knows his experience had been "too real to be a dream—the people, the village, the danger. He'd been there, smelled the hay and apples, seen the golden moon in Braslav's sky." He knows that it had all happened because of the star, decides that the Yossi's Jewish star is now a part of his life—causing a genuine change in him.

The persona transformation device works in this well-crafted, action-packed story, which should create a hunger for youngsters to know and dream about their own family heritage. Readers will also learn more about Judaism, the Diaspora, and the Star of David in historical information after the story ends.

Product Details

Orca Book Publishers
Publication date:
Orca Young Readers Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.25(d)
Age Range:
8 - 11 Years

Meet the Author

Ellen Schwartz is the author of over fifteen books. In addition to writing books, she has published dozens of magazine articles and adult short stories, and her stories for children have been published in children's magazines and teaching anthologies. Ellen, whose background is in education, currently works as a corporate and curriculum writer and editor, and teaches creative writing classes at Simon Fraser University and Douglas College. Ellen has two daughters and lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. For more information, visit

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Jesse's Star 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book reminded me a little bit of the Magic Tree House books, but with a Jewish theme. Written for a slightly older audience, the main character travels back in time to his great-grandfather's Jewish shtetl in Eastern Europe where they face problems like storing food for the winter and keeping it away from the soldiers who like to steal it. Jesse creatively solves the problem and helps the community flee to safety in Canada. The story may be frightening to some children; however it is a gentle introduction to pogroms and other fearsome historical experiences of Jews in Eastern Europe. It is also interesting in that the modern characters live in Canada and sought freedom there, rather than in the United States. The story continues in the sequel "Yossi's Goal".