Review: When Zissel Got Rich

When Zissel Got Rich

by Maxine Rose Schur, illustrated by Cristina De Liso

Lawley Publishing, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
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“Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1). This adage comes to mind when reading the appropriately titled picture book When Zissel Got Rich. Zissel and her family lived simply until her husband does well in business and they become rich. That’s when the trouble begins, as Zissel now wants a new ring with a bigger diamond, thinking that then she will have everything her heart desires. After this ring, she wants a new bracelet, followed by a new necklace. Unfortunately, each new piece of jewelry brings it with it disastrous results for Zissel, until a simple beauty in nature is the wake-up call she needs to realize the errors of her ways. Disney fans will especially appreciate the bright and expressive illustrations, as well as the clothing and furniture which are reflective of the time period.

As far as Jewish content is considered in the context of the Sydney Taylor criteria, Zissel is presumably Jewish, given her Yiddish name. This identity is further confirmed by her references to a melted Hanukah candle, a stale challah, and a noodle in a kugel. The narrative also refers to the queens of Judea. As for the illustrations, all of the characters present as white. In one scene, the background setting shows a rounded, seven-branched candelabra. While this is not a Hanukkah menorah, which is nine-branched, it may evoke in some readers the present-day image of the menorah on the emblem of the State of Israel. 

Overall, although this story takes place “Long ago, well before you were born,” author Schur and illustrator De Liso have combined their storytelling talents to produce a book with a timeless message for our materialistic society, which is always striving to acquire more as a means to acquiring happiness.

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Reviewer Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili is the author of the novel JUST ONE MATCH, and two middle-grade mysteries, MYSTERY AT NIGHTLIGHT RESORT and THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST WATCH. Her picture book MENDEL AND THE PENCIL and chapter book SHLOIMIE’S LETTER (a PJ Our Way selection), were both illustrated by her husband. Born and raised in Toronto, she still resides there with her family. (Bio illustration courtesy of Michael Biniashvili.)