Review: Wishing on Matzo Ball Soup

Wishing on Matzo Ball Soup! (Ellie's Deli series)

by Lisa Greenwald, illustrated by Galia Bernstein

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Laurie Adler

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Veteran tween author Lisa Greenwald’s newest book is about a sympathetic eleven-year-old who is determined to save her family’s failing Jewish deli. Ellie comes from a close knit Jewish family and has supportive friends at home and at school. Her small town's dwindling Jewish community, however, and her bubby’s declining health means that her family will likely have to sell their beloved fourth-generation kosher deli. Ellie’s ambitious plans to save the deli form the backbone to this gentle and upbeat book, and though there are some heavier subplots, such as anxiety, loss, and gentrification, all topics are addressed with a light hand. With the help of her community, Ellie’s plans to save the deli are successful and all problems, big and small, are neatly resolved by the last page.

Extras such as Galia Bernstein’s illustrations and interspersed recipes add much to this brand new series. Striking cover art and some black and white line drawings give this book about old-school food a modern feel. The child-friendly recipes at the chapter breaks will spark the interest of young foodies and draw readers into Ellie’s world of rich smells and delicious textures.

The very premise of Ellie’s Deli is based on Jewish cuisine, and Ellie’s identity is bound up with the culture surrounding traditional Ashkenazi Jewish food. The Jewish population cues white Ashkenazi, but Ellie's world does include a variety of friends, traditions, and community members from other backgrounds and religions. The Jewish content, such as Ellie's plan to host a minyan at the deli to draw in customers, flows naturally from the plotline and is both authentic and accessible to those without Jewish background knowledge. In this series-opener, Greenwald uses traditional Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine as a delicious window into the world of this likeable and enterprising middle grade character.

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Reviewer Laurie Adler is a librarian who has been connecting children of all ages with just-the-right-book for over a decade.