Review: Welcoming Elijah

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal

Category: Picture Book
Reviewer: Anna Caplan

In Lesléa Newman’s gentle picture book Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail, the Passover seder is rich with sensory experience. It’s also a little bit magical.

Using simple, lyrical prose, Newman takes readers on a journey through two separate worlds: a boy experiences the seder indoors while a stray kitten wanders outside. Although the boy and the kitten occupy different spaces, their experiences echo one another:

Inside, the boy dipped
parsley into salt water.

Outside, the kitten chewed
A wet blade of grass.

Inside, the boy broke
the middle matzo in half.

outside, the kitten split
a twig in two.

This soothing pattern of phrases beginning with “inside” and “outside” continues throughout the book. The repetition propels readers forward towards the inevitable meeting between boy and kitten. When they eventually meet, the moment is heartwarming (I might have shed a few tears).

Susan Gal’s breathtaking illustrations enhance the book’s magic. Warm yellows sweep across the indoor scenes, while outside, the kitten’s white fur stands out amidst blues and blacks. (Full disclosure: I was so taken with Susan Gal’s art that I hired her to illustrate a piece for Honeycake magazine.)

Welcoming Elijah is a wonderful addition to the Jewish kidlit canon. The book’s seder guests are diverse in age, race, and build. Its prose is poetic and economical, finding beauty in the simplest of details: “A square of lamplight spilled onto the porch. / A beam of moonlight shone into the hall.” Another blessing: the seder provides a backdrop, but this book isn’t really about Passover, though young readers will enjoy noticing components of the seder throughout the book.

Like many other families, we’ll be celebrating Passover at home with our children this year, away from extended family. I’m grateful to have a book like Welcoming Elijah to bring a little enchantment to our Passover seder.

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail is a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Book award. It tells a universal story steeped in the joy and warmth of the Passover seder. The prose is developmentally appropriate for young children and explores the world from a child-like perspective. I can see this book read year-round in a variety of settings, with both Jewish and non-Jewish children. Welcoming Elijah has the makings of a classic; I know it will occupy a special place in our home library.

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Reviewer Anna Caplan is the edi­tor in chief of Hon­ey­cake, a Jew­ish children’s mag­a­zine that aims to reflect the diver­si­ty of Jew­ish expe­ri­ences, iden­ti­ties, and fam­i­lies. A grad­u­ate of Har­vard Col­lege, she lives in Wyn­newood, PA with her hus­band and two children.