Review: The Passover Guest

The Passover Guest

by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin

Holiday House

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Bridget Hodder

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This delightful picture book re-imagines the magical tale of the Passover Guest in the historical setting of 1930's Washington, DC. The book's delicately fantastical illustrations slip the tether on readers' imaginations and help them absorb aspects of both the history of Passover and the history of the US during the Great Depression. The result is a deeply engaging folk tale grounded in a reality that could be bleak, were it not for the enduring ties of faith and love. The love manifests in many ways, including love of family, love of community, and the open-handed love given by an impoverished Jewish family to a Passover stranger whom they welcome to their scanty holy day table.

This book comes to us at a particularly relevant moment. Children all over the US and the world have recently witnessed a mob, including antisemites, desecrate Washington DC. Since those buildings are portrayed in the illustrations of THE PASSOVER GUEST, the book can provide an unexpected and serendipitous springboard for reassuring discussion. Yes, reassuring. Because the story of a guest, welcomed at Passover, who is actually the Prophet Elijah and a performer of loving miracles, is a beautiful and intentional demonstration of how we counter troubles through community and the very traditions that lie at the center of what it means to be Jewish.

Kids will find themselves returning again and again to the story of Muriel, her loving but poverty-stricken family, and the miracle wrought by the Passover Guest. It's a message of hope, community and solidarity that they will never forget.

This excellent book meets the criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. 

Editors' Note: This title was named a Spring 2021 Holiday Highlights book by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Listen to Heidi's interview with Susan and Sean on The Book of Life Podcast.

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

Reviewer Bridget Hodder's first Middle Grade novel was THE RAT PRINCE from Macmillan/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux. THE RAT PRINCE was a Children's Choice starred selection, and was shortlisted for the Aslan Award in Children's Fantasy Literature.

Stay tuned for Bridget's next Middle Grade book, THE BUTTON BOX, an #OwnVoices PJ Our Way selection co-authored with Sydney Taylor Silver Medalist Fawzia Gilani. The first in a magical time travel series, THE BUTTON BOX features Sephardic and Muslim characters and exciting adventures throughout Jewish and Muslim history. Coming soon, from Lerner Books and Kar-Ben!