Review: The Night Before Passover

The Night Before Passover

(The Night Before series)

by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Nathalie Beauvois

Grosset & Dunlap (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz

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Author Natasha Wing has parodied The Night Before Christmas with 40+ titles in her "The Night Before" series. The Night Before Passover is her second Jewish entry, following The Night Before Hanukkah (2014). Some Jewish readers may find the juxtaposition of Passover with a famous Christmas poem amusing, while others may find it discomfiting. That said, it's always appreciated to find Jewish titles incorporated into a non-Jewish book series.

The text follows the pattern of couplets from Clement Clark Moore's original poem, but unfortunately, the meter is uneven and awkward. Forced into the rhyme scheme, concepts lose their meaning, as in this passage: "We sing psalms, recite blessings, / I sip grape juice from my cup. / I already finished three drinks-- / here's the fourth one, bottoms up!" This segment is unwieldy to read aloud, and implies that the narrator is simply thirsty, rather than indicating that four cups of wine or juice are a meaningful part of the seder.

While most markers of a typical Ashkenazi seder are included, the descriptions are often cursory. Readers familiar with seders may be bemused by the jumbling together of Passover elements. Other readers may get a vague sense of the holiday but will not find this story very illuminating about the history, meaning, or customs of Passover.

The cheerful sketches by Nathalie Beauvois depict a white-presenting Jewish family whose male members don kippot when guests arrive for the seder. The Israelites depicted in the Exodus flashback sequence are also white-presenting, although Pharoah is brown-skinned.
I would recommend this book only where "The Night Before" series is already popular. However, I would like to mention that the author penned an admirable Jewish book in 1996, Jalapeño Bagels, about a boy whose family bakery offers food representing his mixed Jewish and Mexican heritage. It's based on a real California bakery, Los Bagels, where they really do make jalapeño bagels.

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Reviewer Heidi Rabinowitz is one of the co-admins of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, along with Susan Kusel and Chava Pinchuck. She hosts The Book of Life Podcast: A Show About Jewish Kidlit (Mostly) at Heidi is Past President of the Association of Jewish Libraries, and Library Director at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida.