Joel Edward Stein, Author
Sara Ugolotti, Illustrator
Kar – Ben Publishing, Fiction, Feb. 1, 2022
Suitable for ages: 5-9
Themes: Passover, Seder, Jews, Spain, Inquisition
Opening: “Raquela had a secret. On Friday nights, she followed her parents down to the wine cellar under their house. There, her mother would light Shabbat candles, and her father would say a prayer over the wine. That secret room was the only place the Rivera family could celebrate Shabbat.”
Raquela longs to celebrate Passover, even though Jews are not allowed to practice their religion in Inquisition-era Spain. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella punish those who are caught observing Jewish customs or celebrating Jewish holidays.
Raquela’s papa is the best fisherman in town. He knows that “you must think like a fish” and finds their best hiding places. He understands Raquela’s wish to celebrate a Passover and he has the perfect place. Before Passover begins, he asks Mama to bake flat matzah and mix some dried fruit with nuts and spices and asks Raquela to gather some other items, including a table cloth.
The next day before sundown, Raquela and Mama quietly meet Papa at the beach and they sail to Papa’s favorite fishing hole. There he creates a unique Passover seder for the family, safe from any spies. And Raquela celebrates her first seder under the starry night. Papa explains the meaning of the foods and tells the Passover story in remembrance of the enslaved Jews in Egypt and their exodus to freedom. He also has a hope that “one day we will also be free in Spain — free to live as Jews.”
Why I like Raquela’s Seder:
Joel Edward Stein seamlessly weaves together two historic time periods of Jewish oppression into a moving Passover story of hope and freedom. His gentle text will engage children and will leave them feelings hopeful. Sara Ugolotti’s beautiful illustrations compliment the story, especially her stunning double-spreads of the family celebrating under a starry night. She cleverly includes some historic scenes of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. And look at that stunning cover!
I must admit, I didn’t know about how the Jews were treated in Spain. Make sure you check out the author’s Historical Note about the Spanish Inquisition, which lasted more than 350 years, ending in 1834. There is also a more detailed discussion about the Passover celebration. This book is certainly one to add to a home library. It is such a moving tale and relevant in today’s world.
Activities: This book would pair well with Pippa’s Passover Plate by our PPBF author/friend, Vivian Kirkfield. Explain the significance of each of the items on a seder plate and encourage your child to draw, cut, and glue their own plates with construction paper.
Joel Edward Stein is a former staff writer for CTB/McGraw-Hill. A member of the Society of Chidlren’s Book Writers and Illustrators, he lives in Florida with his wife, son, two birds, and a tortoise. His books include A Hanukkah with Mazel, The Pigeon Man, and The Capture of Rafael Ortega.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
*Reviewed from a library book.