Review: Zhen Yu and the Snake

Zhen Yu and the Snake

by Erica Lyons, illustrated by Renia Metallinou

Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rinat Hadad Siegel

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In bold and expressive illustrations with old-world charm, we are artfully reintroduced to the Talmudic tale of Rabbi Akiba's daughter and the snake with a new and beautiful setting - China. Erica Lyons magnificently adapted the tale to old China and beautifully introduced the readers to the back story of the Jewish community in Kaifeng, China. Erica features the culture as well as bits and pieces of traditions of the Kaifeng Jewish community and their way of life among their non-Jewish neighbors.

Little Zhen Yu and her father, Li Jian, are at the market, buying Shabbat supplies, until she gets lost. While searching for her, her father bumps into an old fortune teller who tells him where Zhen Yu is but also warns him that she will be attacked by a snake on her wedding night. Time passes, and we are on Zhen Yu's wedding day. While preparing for her wedding, Zhen Yu shows kindness to a poor man at her doorstep. While attending to the poor man, she sticks her hairpin into the silk-covered wall. It turns out that a snake was in the wall, and the pin stabbed it in the head, causing it to die and keeping Zhen Yu and her family safe. At the end of the story, we are reassured by Li Jian that Zhen Yu's kindness and giving to the poor eliminated the danger and saved Zhen Yu's life.

Many Jewish values are sprinkled throughout the tale, from hospitality and kindness to honoring your parents and giving back to your community. As the story ends, the timeless and universal message of caring for others is prominent.

Illustrator Renia Metallinou brings to life old China in a cohesive color pallet, expressive characters, and intricate details in each spread. The Jewish characters have Chinese features, and we learn in the back matter that their origin might have been Persian.

This story organically weaves in so many sub-themes for its readers and is well suited for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. The back matter provides current information for parents and children curious about the story's origin and the Kaifeng community. This story is an excellent and rich addition to Jewish children's literature.

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Reviewer Rinat Hadad Siegel was born in Israel to a Jewish Mizrahi family. She is a children's book author and a former educator and resource teacher for elementary and middle-school-aged kids. Rinat received her Bachelor's Degree from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev and holds a Master's in Education from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. Exploring Mizrahi roots is one of Rinat's passions, and she aspires to promote and add diverse Jewish history into children's literature.


  1. Such a fabulous review. I'm ordering this book now!

    1. Thank you! It is a fabulous book:)


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