After lighting the Hanukkah candles, Al Rosen and his son, who are both pale-skinned, stroll around their city neighborhood. It’s also Christmas Eve, and when Al learns that the local Black newsstand clerk is working and can’t be with his family, Al volunteers to take over—beginning adecades-long tradition of the “Christmas Mitzvah,” as he and, later, his family, stand in for Christian neighbors who have jobs that are “easy to dismiss in a world that mistakes wealth for worth.” Peppy, inclusive, and richly colored digital art by Agatha portray an oft-frazzled Al juggling the demands of the jobs he’s stepped into. As his generosity inspires, people of various faiths soon carry on the Christmas Mitzvah by volunteering on “each other’s special days.” Gottesfeld succeeds in highlighting a compassionate lesson of community care, and the importance of turning kindheartedness into action. Back matter features an author’s note with links to more information on the real Al Rosen, as well as Hanukkah. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)
"Based on the true story of a remarkable man named Al Rosen, The Christmas Mitvzah will leave the reader with a warm, gratifying feeling and a desire to find people in need of help who they can assist in ways large and small.
Al realized one crisp December that many people had to work on Christmas, and he resolved to send them home to celebrate with their families while he volunteered to take over their jobs for the day. Over the years, Al spent December 25th selling newspapers, shining shoes, pumping gas, tending bar, and filling a variety of other roles so that others could celebrate their holidays at home along with their families. He included members of his own family in this unique and important mitzvah, imparting to them along the way the joy in helping others. Al continued to give of himself in this special way until he was eighty years old. His generosity and love were appreciated by those he helped, who showed their gratitude, in return, by helping him when he could no longer assist them and by celebrating Hanukkah with him and his family.
This story, filled with the inherent beauty of its subject, is enhanced further by evocative illustrations that convey the feeling of warmth and care personified by Al Rosen’s life. The illustrations are filled with bright, happy colors, sparkling facial expressions, and touches of gentle humor throughout. The optimism of the story is reflected in the art.
An author’s note tells more about Al and his life and refers the reader to a website where further information can be found. It also explains the holiday of Hanukkah, noting its calendar proximity to Christmas, and includes, as well, a link to a website where readers can learn more about Hanukkah and its customs."—Jewish Book Council
PreS-Gr 2—This inspirational cross-cultural story, based on true events, captures the holiday spirit; however, it may appeal more to adults than children. Al Rosen is a Jewish man who loves Christmas. One Christmas Eve, he offers to take over a newsstand clerk's job to allow the clerk to spend Christmas Eve with his family. This act prompts Al to offer to do people's jobs for Christmas Eve and it inspires others to do the same. On the year Al decides he is too old, many people he has helped come together to celebrate him, inspiring a multicultural lighting of the Chanukah candles. This story has an adult sentiment. Other than mentions of his children and grandchildren, it centers on Al. The inspirational content will appeal to adults and rides the line of cloying. That said, the message is a worthy one and the writing is clear, concise, and accessible. The cartoon-style illustrations are humorous and appealing, depicting a multicultural cast that includes people of all races, as well as those wearing turbans and hijabs. Agatha uses a vibrant color palette that draws the eye and creates effective pacing, with a mix of full-bleed single pages and spreads, as well as some spot art. VERDICT Schools and libraries looking for an inspirational story that goes down easily and will likely appeal to parents and grandparents will find this fits the bill. Buy where budgets allow.—Amy Lilien-Harper, Wilton Lib., CT
A Jewish man and his family perform good deeds for non-Jews on Christmas Eve.
Al Rosen, who celebrates Hanukkah, loves Christmas, a holiday of “peace on earth and goodwill to humanity.” He does good deeds, or mitzvahs, for neighbors, at first taking the Christmas Eve shift at the local newsstand so the regular clerk can spend the night with his family. Later he goes on the radio to volunteer to work for Christians on Christmas Eve. His labors take him from grocery store to mail room to parking lot to barn. For many years he performs these many different jobs by himself and sometimes with his son and grandchildren, becoming a “local legend.” People of other faiths, Christian and Muslim, then return the favor on the Jewish High Holidays for Al and his family. But “years piled up like drifts in a blizzard,” and one year Al is too old—but in a grand finale, all join together to light the Hanukkah menorah: It’s a veritable “throng of God’s children.” An author’s note references the real Al Rosen of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who performed these acts starting in 1969. The brightly colored, busy illustrations fill the pages with a nicely diverse collection of active and energetic folk working and smiling as a community.
A heartwarming slice of neighborly love, caring, and sharing. (author's note) (Picture book. 6-9)