Toys That Teach


Introducing my new picture book:

The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin
written by Martha Simpson
illustrated by D Yael Bernhard
Wisdom Tales Press, October 2014


When Wisdom Tales Publishing offered me the opportunity to illustrate The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin, I knew right away it would be a fun book.  What could be more enchanting than a toyshop in Prague one hundred years ago?  This is the sort of setting I used to dream about when I first started out as an illustrator.

What I did not recognize right away is the moral substance of this story.  At first, The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin seems like one of many tales that explore the classic dichotomy between selfish and unselfish children.  The two spoiled children receive a consequence for their lousy behavior: that of a dreidel that refuses to spin.  Not just any dreidel, but one which is the handiwork of a mysterious peddler.  By contrast, the humble boy is rewarded when the dreidel not only spins for him, but transforms, delivering a special message.  In keeping with Jewish tradition, the vehicle of transformation is language, as the Hebrew letters on the sides of the dreidel change in shape and meaning.  It is a small miracle for the unassuming boy –

shopkeeper & peddlerbut the biggest lesson learned is that of the shopkeeper, who discovers something intangible that cannot be bought or sold:  a spiritual justice that helps toys find their rightful owners, bringing unexpected joy to those who are humble.  This dreidel is alive with the spirit of Hanukkah.

shop window

Most enjoyable for me as an illustrator was the challenge of revealing the boy’s character visually.  The child’s actions in the story are spare.  Thus I created additional vignettes – windows into the boy’s good nature, showing acts of kindness and compassion as the boy and his father make their way through the city of bridges and spires.

endpapers lower rightWithout so much as a coin to spend on holiday gifts, they amble about the city taking delight in simple joys and discoveries.  What better foundation for a child’s good nature, than a loving and unhurried father?
endpapers lower left

 All of this plays out in the city of Prague, where sophisticated carved and painted toys were handcrafted by Bohemian artisans.  Like the dreidel, these toys come alive, helping to shed light on good and bad behavior.  I had fun with these toys, and I hope it shows!


marionette 1


Like every good Jewish story, The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin gets you thinking – well after you finish reading it.  For it holds as miraculous something as simple as an attitude of kindness and gratitude.  Just as Moses, in striking the rock in the desert, is barred entry to the Promised Land for displaying just once an attitude lacking in humility and reverence – so too are these children, in spinning a top, reminded of how important right attitude is.  It might even be the  most important tool for young people to take with them out into the world.

Watch a one-minute trailer for the book here!

The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin has only been published for one day, but has already earned numerous 5-star reviews on Amazon.  Bravo to Martha Simpson for writing such a great story!  The book is available through my webstore (where books may be ordered custom signed), through Wisdom Tales Press, or on Amazon.  Please request this book at your local library!  Many librarians will honor such requests.  


Jewish-themed books by Durga Yael Bernhard:

written by Jacqueline Jules
Wisdom Tales Press
A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review







Around the World in One Shabbat coverAROUND THE WORLD IN ONE SHABBAT
written & illustrated by D Yael Bernhard
Jewish Lights Publishing
A Sydney Taylor Honor Book



Green Bible Stories cover
written by Tami Lehman-Wilzig
Kar Ben Publishing
A National Green Festival Notable Book









Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree:
Exploring the Wonder of Trees Around the World
written & illustrated by D Yael Bernhard
Wisdom Tales Press


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