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Children’s Picture Book Review – Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery

MEET THE HAMANTASCHEN:
A Purim Mystery

Written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg

(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Meet the Hamantaschen cover

 

 

This year Purim begins on the evening of March 16.

Just in time for the Jewish holiday, author and illustrator Alan Silberberg is back with Meet the Hamantaschen another funny companion picture book to his previous two holiday-themed hits, Meet the Matzah and Meet the Latkes.

It’s great to have a fresh take on Purim, the holiday that celebrates the cleverness and bravery of Queen Esther who, as the bride of powerful King Ahasuerus in a place called Shushan, hid that she was Jewish. When Haman, a trusted advisor of the king, and embodiment of evil, “…convinced the king that all of the Jewish people of Shushan should be eliminated,” Esther, aided by her uncle Mordecai, hatched a plan to save her people.

 

Meet the Hamantaschen int1
Interior art from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

Rather than simply reenact the story on stage, something that many synagogues do when members perform the Purim play or spiel, Silberberg’s introduced a trio of die-hard hamantaschen detectives to bring the story to life on the page. For those unfamiliar with hamantaschen, they are triangular-shaped, filled pastries resembling the three-cornered hat worn by bad guy Haman. The story unfolds in film noir-style with the detectives being summoned by a mysterious stranger. Their mission: find the missing megillah. The megillah, chanted during the Purim play, is known as The Book of Esther and recounts the story that is performed. Without it “… no Purim play!”

Silberberg’s humor shines when the detectives disguise themselves to interrogate the cast of the Purim play, their likely suspects. The cake, the cookbook and the cactus waste no time in getting down to business, with puns, alliteration, and general silliness. And though weeding out the culprit may seem like it’s serious stuff, seeing a bunch of hamantaschen seeking answers can only mean one thing for children. FUN!

 

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Interior spread from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

As the investigation continues, the trio begins piecing Purim clues together, true and false allowing the play to go off without a hitch. But the missing megillah has still not materialized. Will it ever be found? Well, that’s one clue this mystery fan is not giving away.

 

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Interior spread from Meet the Hamantaschen: A Purim Mystery written and illustrated by Alan Silberberg, Viking BYR ©2022.

 

Throughout the book, the artwork, drawn and painted digitally, is bold, whimsical, full of visual jokes, zany characters, and extra-large speech bubbles, all adding to the enjoyment of Meet the Hamantaschen. One of my favorite characters is Barry who plays the part of Haman. His mustache is perfect and reminds me of old-time villains. In the back matter there’s a Purim Glossary to help explain some terminology. A real positive about this picture book is that even children who are not Jewish will learn about Purim and get caught up in the excitement of the sleuthing. Best read with a side of hamantaschen and a grogger in hand!

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Kids Chapter Book Review – The Case of The Bad Apples

THE CASE OF THE BAD APPLES:
A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery

Written by Robin Newman

Illustrated by Deborah Zemke

(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 5-11)

 

badapples cover

 

Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”

Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.

 

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Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.

 

Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?

As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as  Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.

 

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Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.

 

Zemke’s illustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.

Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts.
I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).  

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for an educator’s guide.

Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049 

 

 

Click here to order a copy of The Case of The Bad Apples.
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Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/14/20

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New Chapter Book Series – Warren and Dragon by Ariel Bernstein

WARREN & DRAGON: 100 FRIENDS
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Mike Malbrough
(Puffin Books; $14.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Paperback, Ages 5-8)

&

WARREN & DRAGON: WEEKEND WITH CHEWY
Written by Ariel Bernstein
Illustrated by Mike Malbrough
(Puffin Books; $14.99 Hardcover, $5.99 Paperback, Ages 5-8)

 

cover art from Warren & Dragon 100 Friends Book 1book cover art from Warren & Dragon Weekend With Chewy Book 2

 

WHO AND WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS NEW CHAPTER BOOK SERIES:

Warren Nesbitt, a seven-year-old boy.
The realistic relationship (and dialogue) between siblings.
Dragon, a 122-year-old dragon who is real and only visible to Warren.
Dragon, the stuffed animal everyone thinks is what Warren is always referring to!
Warren’s twin sister, Ellie and her quick wit and snide comments.
Friendly next-door neighbors, Nia and Paula Berry, are a gay African-American couple with three children.
Michael Berry, first-grader and soon-to-be Warren’s good friend.
Alison Cohen, Warren’s classmate in Mrs. Tierney’s class.
The descriptions of lunchtime in Book 1.
The Nesbitt family need to move because Mom, an engineer, has been offered a job in a new city.
All of Alison Cohen’s pets in Book 2 and a burgeoning friendship.
Warren’s fear of Dragon eating Chewy in Book 2.

 

REVIEW:

In Warren & Dragon: 100 Friends (Book 1), the Nesbitt family move to Eddington. While his sister Ellie is not happy about having to leave all her friends, narrator Warren has his pal Dragon and doesn’t care much. After some goading from his sister, Warren decides to set a goal of making 100 new friends despite feeling uncomfortable doing it. However, there’s no way he’ll let Ellie get the better of him when she proclaims, “There’s no way you’re going to make more friends than me!” Luckily Dragon says he knows how to make friends as long as it involves massive amounts of marshmallows. When Warren’s first day of school isn’t going as well as he’d like, things go further south when Dragon goes missing. Soon he is recovered safe and sound, even content, helping Warren to realize that the experience has taught him how to make a new friend. The book works on several levels, one being the friendship aspect and another being a “new school” story. The sibling, family, and neighbor dynamics also add to the pleasure of reading this first installment in what promises to be a popular series.

Witty dialogue from all the main characters makes for fast flowing, always funny ten chapters in this very entertaining read. Initially I read it quickly, eager to find out how Warren fared in his new school. Then I read it more slowly a second time to see how Bernstein pulled me into her well-crafted tale. Kids are going to want to read every book in the series which is great for two reasons: 1) It’s engaging and relatable and 2) Book 2 is available and Book 3 in the series, Warren & Dragon: Scary Sleepover, comes out in 2019.

 

Warren & Dragon: Weekend With Chewy (Book 2) had me grinning enormously through all fourteen chapters, vicariously living through the experience of taking a class pet home since I never had the opportunity. In fact I’m not even sure we had class pets when I went to school. Anyway, once again Bernstein’s created a clever premise for this story. Warren gets chosen to take class hamster, Chewy, home for the weekend. He not only has to care for him, but he also has to write a report about it. The catch is, Warren already has plans and they’re exciting. He and his friend Michael from next door are going to construct a chute between their bedroom windows “to trade snacks after bedtime.” Warren convinces Dragon to hamster-sit Chewy so he can focus his energies on ramp building. At the same time, Warren’s twin sister Ellie wants a pet of her own and thinks that, in order for her parents to agree, she must demonstrate responsible behavior. Classmate Alison Cohen gets pulled into the picture when Warren wonders how to write up the report. Before long, everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere and that’s when Chewy goes AWOL. Can the kids find the missing rodent to ensure a happy ending? Things may be looking up, literally, when Warren at last lays eyes on Chewy at his bedroom window ready to take a ride on the “chute-of-doom.”

Malbrough’s charming illustrations, dotted throughout both books, are a welcome addition for children just transitioning to chapter books. These two chapter books confirm that Bernstein knows what type of story will appeal to young readers. I’m looking forward to more of Warren and Dragon’s adventures because anything goes as long as there are marshmallows in the mix! 

  • Review by Ronna Mandel 

    Find a review of a picture book by Ariel Bernstein here.

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