National Jewish Book Award Silver Medal
Sydney Taylor Award Honors
A Scholastic Reading Club Official Selection
“A laugh-out-loud ‘work of fiction …. and of friction – the kind that filled the author’s childhood.’ Lively language, witty sayings, memorable characters, magic tricks and at least 70 different ways to spell Hanukkah make Dreidels on the Brain a must-read for all seekers of miracles.”
— Association of Jewish Libraries
From the back cover:
At last a great American Hanukkah story! This very funny, very touching novel of growing up Jewish has the makings of a holiday classic.
One lousy miracle. Is that too much to ask?
Evidently so for Joel, as he tries to survive Hannukah, 1971 in the suburbs of the suburbs of Los Angeles (or, as he calls it, “The Land of Shriveled Dreams”). That’s no small task when you’re a “seriously funny-looking” twelve-year-old magician who dreams of being his own superhero: Normalman. And Joel’s a long way from that as the only Jew at Bixby School, where his attempts to make himself disappear fail spectacularly. Home is no better, with a family that’s not just mortifyingly embarrassing but flat-out broke.
That’s why Joel’s betting everything on these eight nights, to see whether it’s worth believing in God or miracles or anything at all. Armed with his favorite jokes, some choice Yiddish words, and a suitcase full of magic tricks, he’s scrambling to come to terms with the world he lives in—from hospitals to Houdini to the Holocaust—before the last of the candles burns out.
No wonder his head is spinning: He’s got dreidels on the brain. And little does he know that what’s actually about to happen to him and his family this Hanukkah will be worse than he’d feared… And better than he could have imagined.
Curious? Read the first chapter, Chopped Liver.
Strange as it may seem, Dreidels on the Brain is actually the first Hanukkah novel suitable for older kids (ages 10 and up) and adults. Response has been enthusiastic – check out these reviews on Amazon.com, where you can also purchase the book. Or, better yet, pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore. Best of all, you can simply order it here. Copies ordered through Storypage will arrive autographed. If you’d like them inscribed for yourself or for someone in particular, as gifts, simply add a note at check out.
Joel reads the book as an audio, which makes for a great listen. You can order here, or through the sources above. You can also download it from audible.com by clicking here.
“What a gift, what a blessing, funny, brilliant, wise!”
“This is a beautiful book full of old tales – from China, India, Persia, Jerusalem – that hap storyteller Joel ben Izzy through dark times of silence and back into light and sound once more…Wonderful!”
“One of the most painfully hilarious tales I have ever read… I was humbled.”
-Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
Joel’s first book tells a story that is at once strangely wonderful and true. Joel had been on the road traveling and telling stories for fifteen years when his own story took a sharp turn, and he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Though usually a treatable form of the disease (a “good cancer” – like a “jumbo shrimp,”) in Joel’s case there was a rare complication; When he awoke from surgery he discovered he could no longer speak. At first doctors thought the loss was temporary, but later they decided it was permanent. So it was Joel fell headlong into a story as bizarre as any he had ever told.
In The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, Joel recounts the story of his journey, woven together with the tales he had collected in his travels – of beggars and kings, monks and tigers, of lost horses and found wisdom – to create what the San Francisco Chronicle called “Nothing less than a spiritual Odyssey.”
Since its original publication in 2003, it has been translated into 18 foreign editions, which you can see here. It is also currently in development as both a feature film and a musical. You can read reviews of the book by readers at Amazon.com, where you can purchase the book. Or, better yet, you might wish to pick up a copy at your local independent bookseller. Or, as long as you’re here at Storypage, you can buy copies directly and have them autographed. You can even have them personally inscribed for yourself and as gifts for others by adding a note to your order at checkout.
For readers who’d like to hear the story, it’s available as a audio book, with Joel narrating. The recording received an “Earphones Award” from Audiophile magazine – here’s their review. You can order the four CD set here, as well as the other locations above, or download it from Audible.com at this link.
“I love this book. I love this book. I love this book… Most heartwarming books are – let’s face it – kind of simplistic or sappy or both. But Joel ben Izzy is a professional storyteller, this is his true story, and he really knows how to tell it.”
-Marta Salij, Detroit Free Press
CHECK OUT THE COVERS OF INTERNATIONAL EDITIONS OF
THE BEGGAR KING AND THE SECRET OF HAPPINESS
FROM AROUND THE GLOBE!
Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner
“A cross between a cowboy and a rabbi… tales become absurd and wonderful in his hands.
In this recording, which has been designated a Parents’ Choice Classic, Joel spins eight tales for the eight nights of the festival of light, all with his trademark warmth and humor. You’ll hear his wild rendition of the story of Hanukkah, the story of Luck vs. Wisdom and tales of Hanukkah in Chelm, the mythical Jewish village of fools. Recorded before a live audience, the tales are woven together with music by The Kings of Klezmer.
Because Joel tells all about the holiday, these stories are accessible to all, whether young and old, Jewish, not-Jewish or somewhere in between. These are stories you’ll be listening to and retelling, long after the candles have burned down.
Parents’ Choice Silver Award Winner
“If you like a) Garrison Keillor or b) Daniel Pinkwater or c) both, check out Joel ben Izzy.”
– Washington Post
This hilarious collection of tales will take you back to Joel’s liver-lovin’ days. As long on laughter as they are short on truth, the title tale tells how Joel came to love, love, looooove liver – and why, sadly, he never eats it, not even a schmeer on a cracker at a Bar Mitzvah, or a smidgen of pâté while in France. You’ll hear the story of Brian, who loved watermelon, and why that same Brian now hates watermelon. Speaking of favorite foods, you’ll hear all about Moose-Turd Pie and the absolutely completely entirely (except for one thing) true tale of Paula Bunyan – which was, in fact, her real name.
The zaniness of the tales is matched by the music for a collection of stories you’ll want to listen to again and again.
Booklist Magazine – “Editor’s Choice”
“A comical, soulful, tale-spinning journey.”
– Booklist Magazine
Tales of laughter and tears stretching around the world and back again.
The title story is a classic, telling of Yaakov ben Yekel, a poor tailor in Crakow, who dreams of a far away treasure and sets off on a journey. You’ll be going on a journey of your own, as Joel weaves together traditional folktales with stories from his own life. You’ll hear about Herschel of Ostropol, the great Jewish jester, and Joel’s own father.
The stories Joel tells and music accompanying them on Buried Treasures will take you to Spain, Haiti and back to Joel’s family home in the suburbs of Los Angeles in this collection of tales about love, loss, learning and laughter.
Award of Excellence – Film Advisory Board
“It’s hard to convey the infectious quality of a good storyteller, but Joel ben Izzy has it. My normally antsy, squabbling offspring were rapt.”
-Washington Post Book World
As funny as it is frightening, this international trove of tales will introduce you to some of the creepiest people and places Joel’s found on his travels, from a taxi in Hong Kong to a graveyard in Israel, from the frozen Yukon to the truly frightening suburbs of Los Angeles. Most importantly, you’ll travel back to a cave in the dusty hills outside of Rome where Joel found The Green Hand – or, rather, it found him, in his first job as an international storyteller, which was very nearly his last.
There’s music to match as well, but a warning, too: These are not tales for the faint of heart.
Parents’ Choice Gold Award
“Listeners will be carried on the wings of Joel ben Izzy’s words.”
– Parents’ Choice Foundation
Joel weaves together tales of beggars, bakers and babies, as well as politeness, pregnancy and pickpockets in this collection of international folktales, which has now been designated as a “Parents’ Choice Classic.” Music from around the world complements the stories, which come from Ireland, China, England and especially Chelm, the mythical Jewish town of fools.
The title story itself is a classic, from Jerusalem, recounting the meeting of King Solomon and Ashmodai, King of the Demons, in which Solomon gambles his entire kingdom – and loses – so as to learn the “secret of iluuuuuusion!” This story would later become one of the two title stories in Joel’s book, The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness. On this recording, however, you can hear Joel tell it in all it’s glory and humor. Great stories for kids and adults, ideal for carpools and long trips, this CD makes an excellent gift.
Parents’ Choice Gold Award
An American Library Association Notable Recording
“Joel ben Izzy is a master at telling his smoothly woven, smiling tales… A treasure trove of international humor.”
-Los Angeles Times
Joel’s first recording has been designated a Parents’ Choice Classic. His stories of wisdom and foolishness will take you on a journey from the marketplace in the old city of Jerusalem to the subways of Tokyo, with side trips to a village in China for the story of a lost horse and a bath house in Turkey where we meet the great Sufi trickster, Mullah Nasrudin. Listeners will especially enjoy the trip to Chelm, the mythical Jewish town of fools.
A virtuoso klezmer clarinet provides the music that weaves the stories together, in this recording you and your family will listen to again and again.