Review: Matilda Makes Matzah Balls

Matilda Makes Matzah Balls

by Rhonda Cohen, illustrated by Francesca Galmozzi

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

Every year, Matilda enjoys watching her grandmother make matzah balls for the Passover seder. This year, however, Bubbe suggests starting a new family tradition by having Matilda help her make them. Matilda eagerly jumps at the chance but she has her own ideas that she’d like to incorporate into the recipe, like adding some lemon and extra dill. Bubbe wholeheartedly encourages Matilda’s suggestions. Matilda’s biggest idea, though, is to make one giant matzah ball. Bubbe has her doubts as to whether it will still float, but she allows Matilda to go ahead with it all the same. When it indeed sinks, Bubbe consoles Matilda: “It’s all right, bubbalah. The nice thing about experimenting is you can always try again.” And that is exactly what they do, with Matilda coming up with more creative ideas that, this time, work out beautifully. A recipe for Matilda and Bubbe’s Matzah Ball Soup rounds out the story.

According to the dedication, debut picture book author Rhonda Cohen’s inspiration for Matilda Makes Matzah Balls was her grandmother’s matzah balls. Using vibrant and joyful colors, illustrator Francesca Galmozzi captures the warm and affectionate intergenerational relationship between Bubbe and Matilda, whose tender and gentle facial expressions are ever-present, alongside laughter, celebrating, and dancing.

Matilda and Bubbe are the only characters in the story which centers solely on the preparation of the matzah ball soup. There is none of the oftentimes busy and frenzied atmosphere usually associated with preparing for the seder or for the arrival of guests. Nor is the making of the matzah balls punctuated with a retelling of the Exodus or the steps of the seder, as is often the case in Passover picture books. Instead, this book is about the loving bond between a grandparent and grandchild, wherein a child is given the room to test out her own ideas in a safe and supportive relationship. In this manner, it is also about the transmission of tradition from one generation to the next, which is, indeed, at the core of the holiday of Passover itself.

Illustration Editor Dena Bach adds: In the illustrations, both Matilda and her grandmother present as Ashkenazi and white. And as in the written narrative, there is no additional Jewish cultural or Passover related content in the illustrations outside of the making of matzah ball soup.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili is the author of the Passover-themed chapter book MYSTERY AT NIGHTLIGHT RESORT and the board book I LOVE MATZAH. Writing for all ages, her other titles include JUST ONE MATCH, MENDEL AND THE PENCIL and THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST WATCH. A second-generation Canadian, she resides with her family in Toronto, where they enjoy matzah balls all year-round. (Bio illustration courtesy of Michael Biniashvili.)