by Susan Kusel
illustrated by Sean Rubin
Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2021. 36 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from my own copy, signed to me by the author
I’ll be honest right up front: The author of this book is a friend of mine. I met her at KidLitCon in 2008 (I think) when she had been accepted to attend the William Morris Seminar to learn about book evaluation, but my application had not been accepted. But I joined her monthly book club talking about children’s books. In 2012 was my turn to attend the seminar. Then I got on the ballot for the Newbery Committee the same year Susan was on the ballot for the Caldecott committee. Susan got elected to the committee, but I missed it by 15 votes. Well, a few years later, my turn did come along and I served on the 2019 Newbery committee. So I’m getting to where I delight in Susan’s successes, as she shows how these things are possible! Oh, and that reminds me – Susan took obvious, joyful delight in each of those successes in a way that spreads the joy to those who see it. Her joyous posts on Facebook about signing copies of the new book ordered through a local independent bookstore prompted me to order a copy of my own.
And the book – with all that build-up, I wasn’t surprised to find it wonderful. It’s a retelling of The Magician, by I. L. Peretz, about a mysterious and magical person showing up at Passover time. Susan sets this story in 1933 in the middle of the Great Depression in Washington, D.C., which is so beautiful in the Springtime. (And she researched that peak cherry blossoms that year hit the first night of Passover.) The illustrator did a wonderful job showing the beauty and grandeur of the monuments among the cherry trees – and then the poverty and plainness of a poor Jewish family with the father out of work.
A miracle happens, and we see the whole thing through the eyes of a little girl named Muriel who sees more than most. Ultimately, the whole community comes together and shares in the traditional celebration.
A lovely story of magic and blessing.
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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.
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