Tuesday, April 12, 2011

review: The Yankee at the Seder

The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber. Illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Tricycle, 2009 (978-1-58246-431-2) $16.99

It’s the day before Passover, 1865, and ten-year-old Jacob is disappointed at the end of “the War of Northern Aggression”: “I was never going to be a Rebel general. I’d never capture a whole unit of Yankees single-handed.” He’s also scared at what the future holds: “No one knew whether the Union would treat us well, now that they’d beaten us.” So when he sees a real live Yankee soldier come walking down the street, his first reaction is not friendly. Then, much to Jacob’s amazement, he realizes the Yankee is a fellow Jew.

When he runs in to tell his mother, she invites “that Yankee” to their seder, telling Jacob: “Jacob, every year we being the seder the same way. We say, ‘All who are hungry, let them come and eat; all who are in need, let them join us for the Passover meal.’ A hungry man needing a seder has come to our home. Would you send him away for wearing a blue coat?”

“Maybe,” thinks Jacob.

The seder progresses as usual, with one little hiccup. Jacob’s father pointedly speaks up in favor of rebellion. The Yankee responds, “Sir, it is one thing to rebel against an unjust government. But Passover isn’t about people rebelling against a government, sir. It’s about how no man wants to be a slave and about how wonderful it is to be free.”

Although it seems to have a specific readership, this book has a surprisingly broad and pertinent message, at a time when so many people in the United States are very divided against one another. Corporal Levy doesn’t exactly convert Jacob to his way of thinking, but he does show him the value of finding common ground.

Warm paintings illustrate this unusual and thoughtful tale, based on a true story which is described in end notes. * (5 & up)

© 2011 Wendy E. Betts

FTC disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher. This blog is completely independent, but I receive a small percentage if you order books from Powell's via this site.

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