Chasing a Matzo Ball or a Golden Lamb

Shulman, Lisa. The Matzo Ball Boy. illus. by Rosanne Litzinger. Dutton, 2005.  Ages 6-8.

It’s almost Passover, and a grandmother regrets that no one will be around to share her seder, to retell the Passover story, or to enjoy her matzo ball soup. What’s a lonely bubbe to do? Why, make herself a matzo ball boy, that’s what.

The morning of Passover she plopped the little ball of dough into her pot of chicken soup. When she lifted the lid, though, he jumped out. Oy! Where did he think he was going? That sassy boy cried: “Run, run, as fast as you can./ You can’t catch me./ I’m the matzo ball man!”

Children will enjoy chanting the refrain in this delicious little Yiddish-flavored version of The Gingerbread Man. The little imp encounters a tailor, a yenta (the local gossip), a rabbi, and a fox. In a creative twist, the Matzo Ball Man escapes the fox by jumping into the river. Litzinger depicts the boy’s broad smile as he speedily swims away. Throughout the book, her stylized watercolor-and-colored-pencil artwork, featuring full, round forms and a bright backdrop, add a bounce to this fractured tale.

The Matzo Ball Boy meets his end, though, after he accepts a man’s invitation to enter his cottage and share Passover with him and his wife. Inside, the wife stirs a pot of soup, the smell of which is somehow familiar to the boy. Can you guess what else will land in that pot? This tasty little story, a bit wordier than most traditional versions of The Gingerbread Man, still makes for a fun read-aloud. And what better time to try a little Yiddish on your tongue?

Greene, Ellin. The Little Golden Lamb. illus. by Rosanne Litzinger.  Clarion, 2000. Ages 5-8.

This sprightly Hungarian version of “The Golden Goose” is a feast for the eyes and the ears. A young man works as a shepherd for a year and in return, asks for a golden-fleeced lamb. The lamb is not just any lamb, though; it dances whenever he plays his flute. An innkeeper’s daughter tries to steal it, but upon touching it, she gets  stuck. When the lad leaves the inn, he plays his flute and the lamb dances. The would-be thief must follow. As the lad makes his way, a ridiculous procession of characters accumulates: “”Down the road they went,/The shepherd lad playing his flute,/The little golden lamb kicking up its heels,/On the lamb’s tail the girl,/On the girl’s back the baker’s peel,/And the little golden lamb carried them all,/dancing down the road.”  They reach a castle, where a king has promised the first one to make his sad daughter laugh will win her hand. The happy ending is highlighted with the illustrator’s exaggerated profile of the chortling king. Litzinger’s lively, whimsical watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations are as infectious as the good-natured tale.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Janice Floyd Durante
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 09:30:33

    Alex, that sounds like such fun! Great idea! I bet she’ll love it.

    Reply

  2. Alex Baugh
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 08:14:13

    These both sound good, but I particularly like the matzo boy. I should pack it in the box I am sending my daughter in China, which contains a few packages of matzo ball mix this time, along with an assortment of Passover candy (ironically, we are not Jewish, just born and bred New Yorkers)

    Reply

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