Review of The Passover Guest

The Passover Guest
by Susan Kusel; illus. by Sean Rubin
Primary    Porter/Holiday    40 pp.    g
1/21    978-0-8234-4562-2    $18.99

This reimagining of I. L. Peretz’s 1904 Yiddish story “Der Kunzen-Macher” (“The Magician”) follows Muriel, a young girl living in Washington, D.C., during the Great Depression. On the first night of Passover, a magician at the Lincoln Memorial encourages Muriel to return home for the Seder, and she does, though she knows her family can’t afford a holiday meal. Muriel is amazed when the stranger knocks on her door and even more so when, a moment later, an extravagant feast appears on the family’s table. When the meal earns the rabbi’s approval, the whole neighborhood enjoys a festive evening. It isn’t until Muriel notices that Elijah’s wineglass is now empty that “she knew who the mysterious stranger was.” In the book’s stunning mixed-media art, each double-page spread conveys emotion through color and light. Pale pink cherry blossoms contrast with the dreary browns and grays of people standing in a food line; Muriel’s empty home is shaded an appropriately gloomy blue-green; after the magician’s visit, joyful yellow candlelight illuminates a table crowded with brisket and matzo ball soup. (An illustrator’s note cites the influence of Marc Chagall; look for stained glass windows, too.) While there have been several adaptations of ­Peretz’s tale (e.g., Shulevitz’s The Magician), this version’s message of hope during dark times feels especially relevant now, and the young protagonist and vividly depicted setting make the story accessible to picture-book audiences. A note on the significance and traditions of the Jewish holiday is included.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Rachel L. Kerns

Rachel L. Kerns is a project manager for an educational publisher. She holds a master’s degree in library and information science from Simmons College.

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