Review: Raquela's Seder
by Joel Edward Stein, illustrated by Sara Ugolotti
Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Arlene Schenker
This is a moving story that takes place in Spain at the time of the Inquisition and its prohibition on practicing Judaism. Raquela and her parents celebrate Shabbat each Friday evening in their cellar so as not to be discovered by the Spanish authorities. Raquela’s parents tell her about Passover, and she wishes she could have a seder. Her mama tells her it is too dangerous, but her papa asks Mama to bake matzoh and mix dried fruit, nuts, and spices. He charges Raquela with gathering parsley, an egg, and other items needed for a seder.
Papa is the best fisherman in town, and he knows the best hiding place for fish. It turns out that this is also the best hiding place for Raquela’s family to observe Passover. Raquela gets her seder on the water in a heart-warming ending. Her papa explains the symbolism of all the food on the seder plate and recounts a short history of the Exodus. There is further explanation in the back matter about the Inquisition and Passover. Children will love the stylized and brightly colored illustrations which bring the characters to life.
The story offers a slice of Jewish history not often seen in picture books. The seder ends with a wish that Raquela’s family will be free next year. This is a valuable lesson for American children who wish for others to be free, and who may think that Jews were only oppressed by Pharaoh in ancient Egypt. It is age-appropriate for picture book audiences and is a contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.
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