When Abra Liberman Garrett married the love of her life who just so happened to be a Christian, made it her mission to teach their son about Jewish traditions in an exciting method. Her idea spawned an adorable yet educational book and toy boxed set she sells online today called Maccabee On The Mantel.
What combination toy and book collections did you love as a child?
As a child, I loved toys and books that facilitated a journey of the imagination. I had Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Barbies, and tons of stuffed animals. I would set my dolls and plushes up like we were at school and I would be their “teacher” reading them my favorite books and teaching them songs. I would also have my brother (who is 18 months younger) be one of my students – or we would play with his toy soldiers.
I was a voracious reader and enjoyed basically every book and comic I could find. My favorite book when I was about 4-8 is a book I still have today and I now read it to my own children; it is called Happy Holidays by Robert Garvey, and it was originally published in 1953. My mom found the book in a used book store in the late 70’s, and it still has its $4 price tag. (I will send a picture because it still makes me smile every time I see it.)
How can children who are not of Jewish backgrounds enjoy the story equally?
After several years of teaching in a Temple pre-school, I can tell you unequivocally that children are like little sponges! They love to learn, be read to, and hear stories that have rhyme and rhythm. So many of my students were not Jewish, but that did not diminish their enjoyment of hearing about the customs and faith.
I would suggest using Maccabee on the Mantel as an educational tool for non-Jewish children, invite them to ask questions and have them compare the traditions in the book, such as lighting the menorah or playing dreidel, to their own family traditions. The message in the book, and the story of Hanukkah in general, is universal – it has to do with standing up to oppression, fighting for your own basic human rights, and maintaining faith even when the odds seem overwhelmingly against you.
In terms of the plush, I was quite careful to avoid him serving as a reward or punishment, but rather be a companion and a friend, and that is something children of all faiths will enjoy!
What did you do in making the toy project real, from start to finish?
The project would not be real had I not been partnered with my dear friends at Four Day Weekend. They’re businessmen and comedians, and they get things done! I thought the creative part of this journey would be writing the book and developing the concept, but the creativity really came in when it was time to take it from idea to reality. Four Day and I worked with Temple pre-school teachers and directors as well as rabbis to make the story accurate and educational. We worked with agents to devise the best way to publish it (which actually turned out to be self-publishing), and we developed relationships with experienced toy manufacturers and people in all areas of manufacturing. While the book is now out and available, I would not consider it “finished” per se. Every Hanukkah, I have the absolute pleasure of putting my pre-school teacher hat back on and going and reading it to children all over; it is the best part of all to me.
When is the appropriate time in a holiday calendar to read this or any holiday story?
The story references the month of Kislev, which is the Hebrew month in which Hanukkah is celebrated. Typically, this is December, but last Hanukkah, it was actually in November. That having been said, lots of people I know keep the Maccabee out year-round, and I think that is very cool.
How can people buy your toy/book set?
It can be purchased now on our website www.MaccabeeOnTheMantel.com.