Review: Matzah Ball Chase

Matzah Ball Chase

by Rachelle Burk, illustrated by Brittany Lakin

Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House Publishers), 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck

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There is, of course, “On Top of Spaghetti.” Then there’s The Matzah Man by Naomi Howland (Clarion Books, 2002), The Matzo Ball Boy by Lisa Shulman (Puffin Books, 2007), and The Ball of Clay that Rolled Away by Elizabeth Lenhard (Two Lions, 2012). This latest tale of silliness and runaway Jewish food has a different spin. The rhyming couplets describe the pursuit of Savta’s matzah ball through Israel, from the amazing Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem (the City of Gold), then to the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and Masada. The matzah ball finally ends up in Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel, and playful dolphins take it out in the Red Sea. The moral of the story – make matza squares instead of balls!

The use of “savta” as grandmother will alert the reader that the book takes place in Israel, but there is more Yiddish (with a glossary) than Hebrew. The rhymes flow nicely, and the vibrant illustrations excellently convey the beauty and diversity of Israel, including a striking bird’s eye view of Masada. The characters’ facial expressions, especially the matzah ball, add to the drama and the fun. A map and a recipe would have added to the total package, along with the secret for square matzah “balls” (using an ice cube tray).

As far as Jewish representation, it feels authentic. Israel and matzah balls are an integral part of Judaism for many Jews, but non-Jewish readers will be able to understand and relate to the story. It increases the reader’s knowledge of the geography of Israel. Interestingly, although the illustrations depict the diverse population of Israel, none include men with kippot or tzitzit. A multi-use book that can be used in units about food, Israel, rhymes, family, and with the above-mentioned books for read-a-likes.

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Reviewer Chava (Kathe) Pinchuck worked in private and public libraries in New Jersey before making aliyah in 2012. In Israel she has worked as a cataloger of legal documents and a cybrarian for a distance learning institution. She is a past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, past co-editor of the Children's and YA Book Reviews for AJL News and Reviews, and the current editor of the Jewish Values Finder, a database of Jewish children's books. [Ed. Note: Chava is one of the co-chairs of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze.]