The Passover Guest by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin

The Passover Guest by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin.  Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, 2020.  9780823445622

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review):  5

Format: Hardcover 

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book?  Set in the United States in the 1930s, this is a retelling of the classic Pesach tale by I. L. Peretz. Muriel’s family, like so many others, has fallen on hard times.  Though spring is on its way and the cherry blossoms are beginning to appear on her Washington, D.C., streets, there is hunger and despair everywhere. How will the family celebrate the Passover seder when they can’t even fill Elijah’s cup with a splash of wine? Muriel’s small act of kindness towards a shabby street performer sets the story in motion; he appears at her family’s home and magically creates a ceremonial feast that the whole neighborhood comes together to share.  Who is this stranger?  (There is a hint on the last page.)  Although this is specifically a Passover story, there are details about Washington D.C. and the Great Depression that make it enjoyable for any reader.  There is an author’s note in the back that offers details about the history and symbols of Passover.

Rubin’s illustrations beautifully bring to life the dirt and desperation of poverty, but he also includes a bright spot of color on every page.  In each one, the eye of the reader is drawn to that focal point of hope.  Young children experiencing this as a read-aloud may delight in noticing a blue cat who makes repeat appearances. 

Anything you didn’t like about it?  No

To whom would you recommend this book?  This is a great choice for any story time about hope or the spring holidays.  There are also opportunities to open up discussion about kindness, sharing, and community.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries, elementary schools, Hebrew schools.  Passover is a favorite holiday in many families; with its gorgeous illustrations and just the right amount of text, this book will get borrowed! 

Where would you shelve it?  Holiday stories, picture books.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name:  Robin Shtulman, Athol Public Library, Athol, MA

Date of review:  August 18, 2021

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