Review: Afikotective


written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman

Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Eva L. Weiss

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In Afikotective, the cub in a family of bears reveals his invention for finding the afikomen, the Passover matzah that is traditionally hidden by a family member and, if not discovered, is redeemed with a gift so that it can serve as the dessert for the seder. In this first-person tale, the cub, who tells his story in the first person, enlists his toy elephant as the afikomen detective, or Afiko-sniffer, since elephants are known for their acute sense of smell. This simple story is lightheartedly told with cut-paper illustrations in opalescent colors that are pleasing to the eye. The toy elephant's search uncovers seder foods, from apples to eggs and bitter herbs, but the afikomen remains elusive until the final plot twist. The scents are not described, and we may be meant to overlook that neither matzah nor eggs have especially strong aromas. Ultimately, the hiding place for the afikomen is revealed serendipitously. The cub finds it in the family toolbox, which he has taken down from the shelf in order to "fix" his Afiko-sniffer. The story is enjoyable, and it is notable that the grandmother plays a lead role in the family gathering from her wheelchair. The book's overall vibe is warm and inviting.

The holiday of Passover is explored with a focus on the time-honored ritual of the hiding of the afikomen and the naming of several of the foods that comprise the traditional seder plate. We don't learn much else about the heritage and lore of Passover, but the author's note does explain the Greek origin of the word afikomen, "what comes after the meal, that is dessert. " Amalia Hoffman (both author and illustrator), thoughtfully provides a matzah-badge that can be photographed and cut out so that children can play the role of detective at their own family seder. The books is appropriate for all denominations. 

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Reviewer Eva Weiss is a writer, editor, and translator. She was born in New York City and worked in the publishing industry there before making her home in Israel many years ago. She writes cultural and human interest stories and is the author of the children's book I Am Israeli (Mitchell-Lane, 2016).