A number of new picture books celebrating Passover have recently hit bookstores. They include a tour of depression-era Washington, D.C., a couple of traditional baby-Moses-in-the-basket tales (featuring a historically correct brown-skinned baby), a story about the Sephardic traditions of Mimouna and a hilarious entry in a series about Jewish holiday food families (remember “Meet the Latkes?”), full of kid-friendly puns and cartoon zaniness.
“Meet the Matzah: A Passover Story,” written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg. Viking, 2021.
For kids of all ages who like funny books, “Meet the Matzah: A Passover Story,” hits the mark. The author and illustrator, Alan Silberberg, is a popular cartoonist who has worked for Disney and Nickelodeon. He depicts an elementary school classroom populated by various international talking breads with names such as “Challah Looyah,” “Naan-cy,” “Cornelius Tortilla,” “Burnie Toast” and the class bully — a sourdough named “Loaf.” When teacher “Mrs. Crust” wants a student to share the traditions of Passover with her class, she can’t find “Alfie Koman” because, well, the shy fellow is hiding, of course.
The silliness continues, but when Loaf comes up with his own version of the Ten Plagues (including “broccoli for dessert” and “bagpipes”), Alfie overcomes his shyness and does an excellent job retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt. The halachic problem of inviting his yeasty friends over for the Seder is playfully overcome with a clever solution in keeping with the dictate to “let all who are hungry come and eat.”
“The Passover Guest” by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin. Holiday House, 2021.
Famed Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz wrote “The Magician” about a mystery guest at a Passover seder who turns out to be Elijah the Prophet. “The Magician: has been retold a number of times in various children’s books throughout the years, but this brand-new version adds a sense of time and place far from the Eastern European shtetl where it was originally set. Author Susan Kusel has placed the action of “The Passover Guest” during the Great Depression in Washington, D.C. Illustrator Sean Rubin has brought history to life in his marvelously detailed illustrations of springtime in the city, including the cherry blossoms and the magnificent architecture of the buildings.
In the book, young Muriel (named after the author’s grandmother), whose father has lost his job, meets a mysterious juggler performing magic on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just as she is walking home on Passover eve. She is headed to a meager family seder, sure to disappoint. But upon arriving at home, it becomes clear that the stranger was no simple juggler at all, for his visit and the holiday miracle he conjures brightens the family’s future and provides hope for better times to come.
“The Magician’s Visit” adapted by Barbara Diamond Goldin, illustrated by Eva Sanchez Gomez. Green Bean Books, 2021.
The same I.L. Peretz story has been adapted into a (another) picture book, but this time it exists in the same shtetl atmosphere as the original tale. Noted author and storyteller Barbara Diamond Goldin has revamped her 1993 publication with publisher Green Bean Books by choosing a different illustrator who lightens the telling with beautiful pastels that enhance the magic of the story.
Truer to the Peretz plot, the book relays a magician/stranger who fascinates the villagers with his tricks in the town square as Passover draws near. Soon after this exhibition, children Jonah and Rebecca, who are poor and cannot hold a seder with their own families due to lack of food, open their door to find the magician, who then miraculously creates a truly sumptuous seder for all. Without revealing himself, the humble and deserving family realizes the great Elijah has visited, which is the hope of all Jews on Passover night.
“A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night” by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Rotem Teplow. Groundwood, 2020.
The illustrations are the real highlight in this singular book about two Moroccan girls celebrating Mimouna, the Moroccan Jewish holiday marking the end of Passover. Not well known in North America, Mimouna is a very popular celebration in Israel and among North African Jews everywhere.
Anyone who has experienced the Israeli mad rush for all things chametz in the hours after sunset on the last day of Passover will recognize the dilemma faced by this Moroccan Jewish family upon realizing that it is time for Mimouna but there’s no flour to make the traditional moufleta pancakes. Young Miriam then accompanies her mother on a visit to her Muslim neighbors, who have flour to spare, and while there she makes a new friend that is invited to the family celebration. A recipe for the delicious, thin, moufleta pancakes is included along with an author’s note explaining this holiday’s traditions.
“Baby Moses in a Basket” by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by Julie Downing. Candlewick, 2021.
The lyrical flow of the rhyming text in “Baby Moses in a Basket” depicts Nile river fauna assisting baby Moses along his journey until he arrives safely into the arms of Pharaoh’s daughter. The storyline is perfect for the very youngest of children who do not need to know the sordid how’s or why’s of the biblical tale but can be comforted in the thought that all of God’s creatures provided shelter and care to protect the baby from harm. The beautiful double-paged watercolors of the various featured animals (such as an ibis, hippo and crocodile) will engage little ones and create a book that children and parents will enjoy reading nightly, not just at Passover season.
“Hiding Baby Moses” by Judith L. Roth, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo. Flyaway Books, 2021.
Judith Roth also presents the story of baby Moses, but she accurately relays the trauma of the tale from the perspective of Moses’ sister, Miriam. It begins as Mama cries while covering Moses’s basket with tar, preparing to place him within and hope for the best. As Miriam peers through the reeds at the edge of the river, she spies Pharaoh’s daughter, who sends a handmaiden to retrieve the floating basket. Miriam gathers courage and approaches the princess, offering to take the baby to a “Hebrew woman who can nurse him.”
The biblical story is retold here with poetic beauty and includes the lyrics and music to an original song by Roth titled “the Shelter of God’s Wings.” This is a truly lovely version of the baby Moses story that highlights how the bonds of familial love give us the strength to overcome fear.
Lisa Silverman is the former library director of the Sperber Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles and a long-time book group facilitator.