Review: Starlight Soup

Starlight Soup: A Sukkot Story

by Elana Rubinstein, illustrated by Jennifer Naalchigar

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House)

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Bridget Hodder

A girl with a super-sniffer nose, her loving Jewish family who own a restaurant, and her friend whose family own a rival restaurant -- this magical Sukkot tale is pure delight!
Saralee's family has built a wonderful sukkah entwined with leaves and vines and flowers, and they are ready to celebrate the holiday by welcoming diners to their restaurant for joyful feasting. But young Saralee is a bit tired of the usual traditional foods. Standing in the sukkah one evening, under the stars, she decides to use her incredible gift, her super-powerful sense of smell, to capture the scent and taste of starlight and infuse it into a magical soup. When anyone tastes this Starlight Soup, that person instantly experiences their favorite flavor. It's wonderful! It's miraculous! It's....
A problem.
Because although Saralee has figured out how to create everyone's favorite taste, she has no idea how to STOP that taste from filling and overwhelming people's mouths!
Only her friend, Harold Horowitz, can help her find the way to counteract the effects of Starlight Soup, with the help of the heirloom recipe for pickled herring sold by the Horowitz family restaurant.
The ins and outs of friendship and how competition affects relationships; the strong ties of loyalty and family; and the muddlesome nature of magic are all explored in an entertaining way that allows the reader to learn without feeling taught.  

The book also incorporates a diverse cast of characters and can be enjoyed by kids of any background. The illustrations support and expand the story moments they depict in a lovely way.
When my own kids were small, it was hard to find quality Sukkot narratives for them that weren't purely informational, particularly at a genuinely engaging early Middle Grade level. This is a very welcome addition to the bookshelf. Recommended for all homes and libraries!
[Editor's Note: FYI this book is young Middle Grade, an easy chapter book for early readers, and it's the second in a series. The first book was a Rosh Hashanah chapter book called Once Upon an Apple Cake.]
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Reviewer Bridget Hodder is the author of THE RAT PRINCE from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, a Middle-Grade fantasy "classic" and finalist for the Aslan Award, as well as a starred selection for the International Literacy Association's Children's Choice list. Her upcoming Middle Grade time-travel, THE BUTTON BOX, with themes of shared Sephardic Jewish and Muslim history, is co-authored with Fawzia Gilani Williams, and is coming in April 2022 from Kar-Ben.