Review: Afikomen


by Tziporah Cohen, illustrated by Yaara Eshet

Groundwood Books, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Dena Bach

As author Tziporah Cohen writes in the back matter of this wordless picture book, when each Jew celebrates the Passover seder, they should see themselves “as if we, not just our ancestors, were the ones to escape Egypt.” In this graphic novel for the youngest readers, Cohen and illustrator Yaarah Eshet guide the reader into the Passover story, along with the three young children and their dog, on a time traveling voyage to help bring baby Moses safely down the Nile to Pharoah’s daughter. The children begin their illustrated adventure at a multi-ethnic intergenerational seder as they follow their tradition of stealing the afikomen, the last bit of matzah eaten at the seder meal, from the leader of the seder. When the dog steals the afikomen from the children and dives underneath the expansive blue tablecloth, the children follow him. They soon find themselves in the ancient Egypt. There, the turquoise blue of the Nile works to carry them through the story as they watch Miriam and Yocheved put baby Moses in the basket, follow him down the Nile, save him from various perils, and reassure Miriam that Moses is safe. For most picture books, an adult controls the narrative by reading the words to the child reader. The brilliance of the graphic novel format used here in telling this crucial part of the Passover story is that, as there are no words to be read, each child reader can interpret the story by themselves (or, if needed, with a little help from an adult), thus fulfilling the seder directive of seeing themselves in the Exodus story.

As the narrative is centered on a Passover seder and the telling of the story of the exodus, it clearly has the positive and authentic Jewish content needed for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. The well-crafted, child-centered aspect of this graphic novel format makes it a unique and culturally appropriate way to tell this story. The front matter categorizes the book for ages 3-6, but it the story and art are sophisticated enough to be enjoyed by every seder goer from age 3 to adult, Jew and non-Jew alike – or even those who have yet to attend a seder.

Ed. Note: This title was included on the Association of Jewish Libraries Spring 2023 Holiday Highlights list.

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Reviewer Dena Bach studied Illustration at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and has an MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons University. Currently the illustration editor of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, she has worked as a bookseller, bookkeeper, fine artist, calligrapher, illustrator, writer, and a teacher of children from ages 2 to14. No matter how many children’s books she reads a day, the magical pile of books on her bedside table never seems to get any smaller.