HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Star and the Sword
Author: Pamela Melnikoff
Illustrator: Hans Schwarz
Publisher: The Jewish Publication Society, republished in 1994
Language level: I’ll give it a 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 7 and up
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Melnikoff, Pamela. The Star and the Sword (originally published in 1965 by Vallentine Mitchell and Co Ltd., Gainsborough House, 11 Gainsborough Rd., London, E11 1RS, England; republished in 1994 by The Jewish Publication Society, 1930 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19103). Did you know that there were Jewish people living in England during the Middle Ages? In 1193, thirteen-year-old Benedict and his ten-year-old sister Elvira live comfortable and sheltered lives in the town of Lymford with their physician father, mother, and six-year-old brother Richard. But all that is about to change. The two older children are given a day off from their studies to go into the fields outside of Lymford to pick strawberries. On the way out of town, they learn that the Governor of Lymford, Baron Henry de Poulny, hates the Jews because he owes their Uncle Hugo about a thousand pieces of gold and will stop at nothing to wipe out the debts.
After a carefree day, the brother and sister return to Lymford to find the Jewry on fire and all the Jews in town killed. Helped by a kind friend named Alaric, they escape and head for Oxford where their Uncle Isaac and Aunt Ysabel live. Because of the prejudice against Jews, they decide to hide their Jewishness and say that they are runaway apprentices of Gurth the shoemaker. As they pass through Sherwood Forest, they meet Robin Hood and his merry men, including Will Scarlet, Little John, and Friar Tuck. Then they are asked to travel in disguise with Crusader knight Edward de Bourg to help deliver ransom money that will bring King Richard, who is being held prisoner in Austria, home. He is going to London pretending to be a merchant with his children in order that he might escape from enemies who want to keep Prince John in power. But it is known that Crusaders are generally anti-Jewish. What will happen to Benedict and Elvira if anyone finds out who they really are? Will they succeed in their mission? And will they ever make it to Oxford?
Basing the plot upon her own 1962 full length children’s play The Ransomed Menorah which received the Golden Pen Award of the Jewish Education Committee of New York, author Pamela Melnikoff tells a very exciting and suspenseful tale. While the specific incident referred to in the story, the town of Lymford, and the majority of characters are all fictional, the bias against Jews in medieval England was very real, and the Clifford’s Tower Massacre of Jews in York mentioned early in the book really happened on July 16, 1190. There are several references to drinking such things as wine, ale, and mead, and the phrase “My God” is used once, though it is difficult to tell whether it is a prayer or an interjection. In addition to the historical value of learning about the attitude towards Jews in the twelfth century, there is the general message of exercising tolerance with regard to people of different religious beliefs and being able to work together for a common cause. One does not have to be Jewish or believe in the Jewish religion to see this benefit.