Review: Sweet Tamales for Purim

Sweet Tamales for Purim by Barbara Bietz, illustrated by John Kanzler

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

This charming story is set in the American Southwest during the late 1800s and was inspired by a Purim Ball hosted by the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society of Tucson, AZ. The whole town is invited to the Purim Ball. Rebecca plans to attend in her Esther costume, while her best friend, Luis, decides to go as a vaquero, (Spanish for cowboy). Rebecca explains Purim to Luis, including drawing out the story of Esther and describing how graggers are used to blot out Hamen’s name. When they discover that their wayward goat, Kitzel, has eaten all the hamantaschen, Mama sadly says there will be no cookies this year – all the flour, butter and apricot jam are gone. Unfortunately, Luis’ mama does not any of the ingredients either. Fortunately, she does have masa (corn flour) and raisins, enough to make sweet tamales for Purim.

The story is told in clear, engaging language that describes the many traditions of Purim, along with the adaptive tradition of Sweet Tamales. The excitement of preparation, the disappointment of Kitzel eating the cookies and the relief that a solution can be found are all described with tangible emotions.

The illustrations look like oil paintings on canvas, with the texture of the canvas showing through each picture. With soft colors and vibrant portraits, the story’s many emotions are well depicted and bring this distinctive Purim story to life.

The multicultural nature of the Purim Ball combined with the use of sweet tamales to solve the hamantaschen problem provide for a positive demonstration of the Jewish experience in the old American Southwest. Crowns from flowers, wooden graggers, carts pulled by goats and other illustrations of the time and place create an authenticity to the story. Given all of this detail, this could surely be considered for a Sydney Taylor Honor Book Award. This is a wonderful and unique addition to the Purim collection. Published by August House Little Folks, the book is widely available.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Kathy Bloomfield is the Vice President/President Elect of the Association of Jewish Libraries. She is working hard during the COVID-19 pandemic to upgrade her long dormant website, She lives in Seal Beach, CA.