Jesse's Starby Ellen Schwartz, Kirsti
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.
SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)
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 dreamthe 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 lifecausing 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.
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 www.ellenschwartz.net.
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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".