Review of Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail
by Lesléa Newman, illus. by Susan Gal
Primary    Charlesbridge    32 pp.
1/20    978-1-58089-882-9    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63289-742-8    $9.99

On Passover, inside his warm and cozy house, a boy waits expectantly for his family’s Seder. Outdoors, a kitten waits alone for the moon to appear. Inside, the Seder begins. The boy fills the Cup of Elijah, a ritual that welcomes the prophet into the home. The child listens to the Passover story and enjoys a traditional meal, while outside the cat listens to whispering leaves and “ate nothing at all.” Readers recognize or learn about nearly all the steps of the Seder while getting to know the roaming feline, whose roughly parallel activities are shown, split-screen-style, on every spread. The cat’s rambles lead to the boy’s doorstep at the same moment he opens the door for the prophet: “And that’s how Elijah found a home.” Gal’s warmhearted illustrations, in ink, charcoal, and digital collage, show a diverse, loving extended Jewish family. The art is suffused with light, including golden hues, warm browns, and midnight blues along with textured brushstrokes, subtle patterns, dark outlines, and the whitish-gray cat. Passover-themed details in the text (“Tonight would be different from all other nights,” think boy and cat — a nod to the Four Questions), the illustrations (gefilte fish advertised in a market window), and the story’s message (let all who are hungry come and eat) will resonate with readers; for those unfamiliar with the holiday, Newman’s informative and personal appended author’s note provides more detail. Waiting is a feeling with which young Seder-goers will likely be familiar. The protagonist’s wait ends not as he expected, but satisfyingly nonetheless.

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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