Review: The Candy Man Mystery

 The Candy Man Mystery

by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, illustrated by Christina Mattison Ebert

Kalaniot (imprint of Endless Mountain Publishing)

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Dena Bach

For many children who regularly attend services at a synagogue, the person that makes them feel most welcome is not the rabbi or cantor but is instead the time-honored “Candy Man” or “Lollipop Lady,” the regular attendee who hands out free candy to any child who approaches. Though the idea of giving candy to entice children could be problematic, in The Candy Man Mystery, Rabbi Kerry Olitsky, author of Where's the Potty on this Ark? does a good job of showing that the reward is actually in the relationships and in the community, and not in the sweets. 
With the "mystery" of where the missing Candy Man went, the young reader is guided through the narrative in an age-appropriate manner, and is introduced to the people, places, and prayers that can be found and heard in the typical American synagogue. The narrative ends with a message that models important Jewish values of respecting the elderly and visiting the sick.  

In utilitarian illustrations by Christina Mattison Ebert, the images aptly display the mood of the narrative, adding some diversity that the text does not specify. Mattison Ebert also gives the young reader an added treat of prompting them to search on each page for the colorful candy always spilling from the Candy Man’s pockets. In the narrative itself, while I applaud the stab at diversity, the inclusion of a teen leader teaching the Shema in American Sign Language seems a bit didactic and a departure from the story.
The Candy Man Mystery fits the Sydney Taylor criteria of authentic, positive Jewish content, and is a serviceable, conventional book that allows those children comfortable in a synagogue to see themselves in a story. For those who are new to a Shabbat service, it provides a helpful introduction and welcome, just as the Candy Man does. Hopefully reading the book will not set up some unrealized expectations of finding piles of falling candy!
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Reviewer Dena Bach has a BA in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and an MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons University. She has worked as an artist, a bookstore clerk, teacher of two to five-year-olds, and an art teacher. She is comfortable only when there is a large mountain of children’s books on her bedside table.