The Golden Dreidel

“This magical middle grade Chanukah story, a Jewish spin on The Nutcracker, will delight not only fantasy
readers, but those who enjoy witty humor and challenging riddles. Non-Jewish readers will also enjoy learning all
about the significance and rules of how to play the popular Chanukah game of dreidel. Fans of fantasy classics like CoralineAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Phantom Tollbooth will feel at home with The Golden Dreidel.” —School Library Journal
The Golden Dreidel 2021

New cover! New interior art! New spelling of the title!
With the same beloved, award-winning text

Sara finds Chanukah celebrations boring. When her Tante Miriam arrives and gives her a Golden Dreidel, everything changes: the dreidel, an enchanted princess in disguise, takes Sara on a journey to a magical world. When the princess is taken by the Demon King, who possesses the power of the Tree of Life, it is Sara who must use her wit to save the princess and return her to her parents — King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. A delightful holiday tale that weaves together threads of Jewish folklore and tradition with fantasy and humor.

This endearing Chanukah tale has a long and fascinating history!

It was originally created as a stage show, The Golden Dreydl: a Klezmer “Nutcracker” for Chanukah,
in collaboration with the klezmer band Shirim. That show went on to become an award-winning
public radio holiday special, which then became an album — with Ellen narrating her magical story.

Listen Here On Spotify (Click)


Ellen expanded her story into a book for Charlesbridge Publishing. It appeared in 2007, with lavish illustrations by noted Jewish illustrator Ilene Winn-Lederer:


In September 2021 Charlesbridge Publishing issued a new edition, The Golden Dreidel, with illustrations by Kevin Keele, for a new generation of kids ready for Chanukah magic.
New York’s Vital Theater Company asked Ellen to adapt the book as a play for their 2008/09 season — and at the last minute she fulfilled her life’s dream of acting on stage in New York, when she stepped in to play the part of Tante Miriam

Ellen Kushner in "The Golden Dreydl"

(In 2009/10, the part was played by Bethany White.)

The Queen of Sheba played by Toni Ann DeNoble


Reviews of The Golden Dreidel (2021):

“The Golden Dreidel is a beautifully spun tale of Jewish folklore, coming into your own, and the power of friendship.”
Literary Lady Reviews

“This magical middle grade Chanukah story, a Jewish spin on The Nutcracker, will delight not only fantasy readers, but those who enjoy witty humor and challenging riddles.”
School Library Journal

The Golden Dreidel is back and better than ever with new illustrations by Kevin Keele.”

“Kushner’s book is an engaging read for kids not yet ready for longer middle-grade novels but eager for a satisfying holiday adventure.”
Good Reads with Ronna

Reviews of The Golden Dreydl (2007):

“The author, an established award-winning fantasy writer for teens and adults, does an admirable job of combining Jewish folklore and holiday traditions with an appealing fantasy story for young readers. The delightful black and white line drawings that are sprinkled throughout the text provide further entry into the magical world that Kushner has created.”
– Jewish Book World

“Peopled with a magical cast that includes evil demons and biblical royalty… sure to engage Harry Potter enthusiasts.”
– Hadassah Magazine

“… a beautiful little gem of a book.”
– Jeff VanderMeer, Omnivoracious

“Now, for slightly older readers, we will keep on hand copies of The Golden Dreydl … a story that begins with a child “too old” for the annual family gathering. The adventure she falls into incorporates many elements of Jewish folklore and celebrates the return to the bosom of the family, and isn’t this what the holidays are always about?”
– Sonia Bolle, The Los Angeles Times

“A delightful adaptation of the classic Nutcracker, bringing Jewish folklore and traditions to life.”
– Metro Parent

“Kushner is known for her fantasy novels, and her foray into the seldom-explored area of Jewish fantasy for young readers will appeal on many levels. Jewish customs and folklore, interesting characters, and silly riddles combine for an entertaining and enchanting read. Highly recommended for middle-grade readers in all libraries.”
– Kathe Pinchuck, Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter

“The chatty storytelling is fast, furious, and sometimes funny, especially the riddles… and scattered throughout are delicate black-and-white illustrations that capture the magical realism. Kids will enjoy the fantasy adventure, as well as the contemporary family standoffs; they’ll also be interested in Tante Miriam’s explanation of the dreydl’s symbols. This will be fun for reading aloud.”
– Booklist

“Ellen Kushner, host of the public radio series Sound & Spirit, has been performing with the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra in The Golden Dreydl, their Hanukkah adaptation of The Nutcracker; now the story that she narrates appears as a novel with the same name, with line art by Ilene Winn-Lederer. In place of Clara, meet Sara, who after a petulant scene before Tante Miriam (think Drosselmeyer), accidentally tosses a special dreydl through the screen of her aunt’s gigantic television; the dreydl is the enchanted daughter of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.”
– Publisher’s Weekly

The Golden Dreydl is a story for any Jewish child whose holiday candles may have felt dimmed by the super-charged wattage emitted at Christmas . . . .The story of Sara’s fantasy experience is engaging . . .The reader is swept right along . . . a willing participant in the journey through time. Kushner has a gift for dialogue, which is difficult to accomplish when writing for teenagers. . . . You know these kids. Maybe they are your kids.

There is a ‘once upon a time’ quality to this story that brings dusty figures from the past to life in the present and on to the future. This is a story that will be read and appreciated through the years.”
– Brenda Sutton, Mythic Passages

“When the mysterious Tante Miriam shows up at the family Chanukah party and gives each kid a gift, Sara’s annoyance deepens; her present is a weird, huge, golden dreydl. Except, well, it actually sends her spinning into another reality, one that includes King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, a lost princess who needs rescuing, and the Demon King. Also, some highly satisfying riddles that my kid has been enjoying trying out on friends.”
– Els Kushner, book, book, book

“Good New Books about the Holidays: — Sara’s grumpiness about Hanukkah disappears when Tante Miriam gives her a special dreidel that actually is an enchanted princess. . . Sara journeys into a magical world to rescue the princess from the evil Demon King. (Ages 8-12.)”
– Karen Macpherson, Scripps Howard News Service

“Folklore, fantasy and humor . . . . Sara gets caught up in a dance where the letters of the dreydl along with every letter of the alphabet combine to make word after word, ‘as if the world itself were being created in letters.'”
– Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Journal

From the 2009-10 Vital Theatre stage production:

“Casting the author as Tante Miriam was a stroke of genius as she gives the entire play a spiritual and essentially Jewish quality that sets it apart from the fluff of the original Nutcracker . . . The music is truly brilliant.”
– CurtainUp

The Klezmer Nutcracker is a vibrant show. . . there’s plenty in it for grownups to enjoy too, including remarkable sets, a few jokes meant to go over kids’ heads, some great choreography and at least one achingly sweet moment of song. For kids there’s a surprising amount of plot that definitely won’t insult their intelligence, a few obligatory moments of gross-out humor and plenty of magic.”
– Gather

“Winning characters and enthusiastic cast …. This sort of thing is the true magic of the theater, the reason to take kids out to a show rather than plop them in front of a DVD.”

“The enterprising Vital Theatre Company’s production ….contained a theatrical innocence I love…”
– New York Observer