Review: The Desert Unicorn

The Desert Unicorn

by Bonnie Grubman and Kerry Olitzky,
illustrated by Amberin Huq

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rebecca Klempner

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Two siblings, Abigail and Zachary, are "every kid" characters who are part of the Exodus of the Jewish people out of Egypt. Sure there's manna to eat and miraculous springs to drink from--even their clothing doesn't wear out. But when will they finally reach Israel? Eventually, a mysterious tachash–a legendary creature here depicted as a unicorn–shows up to entertain the children during their journey and to bring them comfort and hope. 
The illustrations are cheerful and vibrant, and I liked that the Jews are shown in warm hues -- these are clearly MENA (Middle East and North African) people who have spent a lot of time in the sun.

I appreciated the details about leaving Egypt, the mention of Moses and Miriam's role as the Jewish people's leaders and the depiction of Miriam's trust. The plot is light on action, mostly focused on frolicking with the tachash, who can only be seen by the children. It should be noted that the tachash in the story is entirely independent from the tachash as it appears in the Torah and midrashim.

This book is certainly Jewish, with religious content and references to the Torah. It is age-appropriate and meets most other requirements of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. While many details are authentic, I found that when we finally meet the tachash, things gets less so. Perhaps the authors didn't want to mention the death of an animal, but the tachash's central role in the Exodus is that its skin covered the Tabernacle--which requires it to be killed and butchered. Additionally, there are multiple opinions about what the tachash was--which is not mentioned at all, not even in the end note. 

This book will most interest young Jewish fans of unicorns, who will be delighted to find their favorite cryptid prancing across the pages, and preschool teachers, who could use this book as a springboard to discuss the Exodus or to perhaps introduce the various opinions about what the tachash was.

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Reviewer Rebecca Klempner is a writer and freelance editor. Her most popular books are A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, Glixman in a Fix, and Adina at Her Best, the last of which was a recent PJ Our Way selection. She's also the developmental editor of the Amazon best-selling What Should Danny Do? series. Mrs. Klempner lives and works in Los Angeles, California.