Review: Asteroid Goldberg

Asteroid Goldberg: Passover in Outer Space by Brianna Caplan Sayres, illustrated by Merrill Rainey

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Fern Richardson

Asteroid Goldberg is a rhyming picture book about a young girl’s celebration of Passover in outer space. The main character, Asteroid, finds herself unexpectedly celebrating Passover in her family’s space ship. The quick thinking girl sets off on an adventure to find creative alternatives to the usual Passover fare. She uses the big dipper as a ladle to scoop up Jupiter’s moons, which Asteroid envisions as matzo balls. Saturn’s rings become matzo, while Jupiter’s red spot fills in for horseradish. The rest of the story is a good-humored explanation of how a seder might look in a zero gravity situation.

Brianna Caplan Sayres manages to fit a lot of Passover information into fun story over 15 spreads. Some of the humor, children will get; some only parents will enjoy. For example, the Jupiter moon matzo balls float right out of the soup bowls, which Sayres describes as floaters; that might have gone too far. That line gave me a chuckle, but I don’t think my children (ages seven and three) have ever contemplated a sinking matzo ball, as I am properly raising them with only floaters. Nevertheless, there was plenty of kid humor, and my seven year old especially enjoyed shouting the cosmic twist on “Next year in Jerusalem!” at the end of the book.

Merrill Rainey did a fantastic job on the illustrations. They appear to be done in pastels on a rough textured paper and are lively and colorful. Space-loving children will enjoy all the details included, such as constellations and satellites, while parents will appreciate the diversity, with the depiction of a multi-racial extended family. It should also be noted that all adult women are shown with a either a tichel or hat, and that all males are wearing kippot (Mr. Goldberg is sporting a delightful world map yarmulke).

There are a lot of Passover picture books, but this one definitely rises to the top. It is light and fun, telling a story that most Jewish children have heard many times, in a totally new and engaging way. I can see this becoming a Passover staple in Jewish schools and households with children aged roughly 3 to 8. It is also a fun opportunity to discuss the first person to celebrate Passover in space: NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman. Asteroid Goldberg certainly deserves consideration for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. The portrayal of Passover is positive and authentically Jewish, albeit a tiny bit inventive when sourcing ingredients. The text itself is well-written and appropriate for picture book audiences. One of the award guidelines mentions “diversity of time period and country of origin.” A book presumably set in the future, in outer space, definitely checks those boxes!

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Reviewer Fern Richardson is a bibliophilic Jewish mom living outside of Philadelphia, PA. During the week, she works in marketing but secretly dreams of being a kindergarten teacher. Alas, she earned her degrees in art from California State University, Northridge, and law from Chapman University School of Law, so teaching other people’s children is not likely at this point. Fern is an avid gardener and authored the book Small-Space Container Gardens for city-dwellers hoping to garden on their porch, patio, or balcony.