Review: This is Not a Cholent

This is Not a Cholent

by Sarah Sassoon, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli

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

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Eva L. Weiss

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This cheerfully illustrated picture book is set in Australia and intended for pre-schoolers and young readers ages 4-8. The story is told from the perspective of a young girl, Amira, who, together with her grandmother, participates in a local "cholent" tasting competition. Their Iraqi recipe for t'bit, or hamin, is distinct from the standard Ashkenazic versions of this traditional Sabbath stew, prepared on Friday afternoon and slow-cooked (in accordance with Jewish law) until it is served on Sabbath morning. Amira, with her grandmother's support, succeeds in standing her ground despite the repeated claims that "This is not a cholent." Amira affirms, "It smells and tastes like other languages and other lands." 
This simple, well-told tale brings to life the aromas and ingredients of a Jewish heritage lesser known to many English speakers. The courageous tenacity of a determined child, lovingly encouraged by her grandmother, prevails. The multi-generational sabbath stew, made with rice-stuffed chicken and laced with ginger, baharat, and cinnamon, is ultimately acknowledged as the indisputable contest winner: “It was the absolute, hands-down, lip-smacking, finger-licking, tastiest, best cholent ever.” The book is enhanced with an end note including a brief history of the Jewish community of Australia (ninth largest in the world). There is an enticing photograph of the dish, ingredients, and and detailed instructions for how to prepare an authentic Iraqi t’bit, according to the recipe handed down to the author by her grandmother.

The diversity and shared traditions of Jewish heritage and communities are at the heart of the narrative and in the brightly colored, unfussy illustrations. The careful and thoughtful writing makes the story equally accessible to a full range of readers, from religiously observant to secular Jews. It could also serve as a sensitive introduction to Jewish tradition that would broaden the horizons of non-Jewish readers. The storyline offers a sturdy and sensitive model of a child determined to to be true and proud in sharing her family heritage. Amira overcomes her own doubts. Reassured by her grandmother, she succeeds in educating the adults in her community. The story has a well-earned happy ending. This book is gently and authentically educational for children and adult readers of all backgrounds.

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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).


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