A funny thing happened when Baruch Silberklang brought home a live turkey on the J train.
In Jessica Steinberg’s debut book for young readers, “Not This Turkey!” (Whitman), an immigrant father wins a turkey in raffle in the pocketbook factory where he works, just before Thanksgiving. In America for just a few years, his family hasn’t celebrated Thanksgiving, never cooked a turkey. When he finally gets the unruly bird – who understandably tries to flee – back to his walk-up apartment, his family decides to gather for Thanksgiving. And Indik, as they name the Turkey in Yiddish, is a part of their celebration of gratitude, but not in the expected way.
The narrator of Steinberg’s spirited tale is a young boy, who immigrated with his family from Germany as a baby. While the word Jewish is never mentioned in the book, the family’s identity is clear from their names and the foods they favor.
Steinberg tells this story well, with expressive illustrations in full color by Amanda Pike. Also included is a recipe for a festive dish that wasn’t cooked by the “Not This Turkey!” family — cranberry apple kugel – as cranberries weren’t available in stores when the story took place, she says.
The author, culture editor of The Times of Israel, grew up in Malverne, Long Island and now lives in Jerusalem, where she hosts Thanksgiving gatherings for upwards of 40 expats and others who delight in American tradition. Steinberg was in New York City last week, introducing the book in area classrooms and bookstores.
She dedicates the book to the family whose real-life events inspired the story, to her husband and to her cousin Deborah Brodie, the distinguished book editor who died in 2012. Steinberg and her family celebrated Thanksgiving with Brodie for many years. She credits Brodie for helping her to understand that in writing for kids, every word counts, and for her advice in shaping the story for young readers.
Steinberg, the daughter of a rabbi, says that she always loved Thanksgiving as it was the great equalizing holiday – she and her observant family did what every other family on their street was doing. For Thanksgiving in Jerusalem, called Turkey Day, Steinberg hangs themed decoration and imports cranberries from America. She makes the turkey – ordered in advance– and guests bring the side dishes to her Arnona home. Before the day is over, she and her twin sons make sure to watch the Macy’s parade on YouTube.