SWEET TAMELES FOR PURIM
Written by Barbara Bietz
Illustrated by John Kanzler
August House LittleFolk 2/11/2020
32 Pages Age 4—7
Genre: Children’s Picture Book, Historically-Based Fiction
Themes: Purim, Cultural Traditions, Wild West
Many Jewish families helped settle diverse communities in the desolate, desert terrain of the Wild West. Although Sweet Tamales for Purim is a work of fiction, it is inspired by a true event. In 1886, the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society of Tucson planned a Purim Ball for the entire community. Bietz tells the story from the perspective of a young girl, who along with her friend, Luis, plan to create a Purim festival for their town. Their plans for the celebration were well underway until the family goat, Kitzel, ate all the traditional holiday pastries, Hamantashen. Fortunately, they find another way to celebrate Purim and the family is able to share their cultural traditions with their new neighbors. (from publisher)
“Everyone was invited to the Purim party in our little desert town. Some folks were travelling by horse and buggy, some by train. Even the mayor was coming. So was my best friend, Luis.”
Why I like Sweet Tamales for Purim
Rebecca is planning a Purim party for her small desert town. She and her best friend, Luis, decide to make the traditional cookie, hamantashen; this year with apricot jams. They combined ingredients, mix, roll out the dough, add apricot jam, and bake the cookies. While the hamantashen cool on the kitchen table, the two kids go outside to play. Soon, but not soon enough, Rebecca notices her goat, Kitzel, who usually stays by her side, is missing.
Fearing Kitzel got into trouble (caught by the tumbleweed, stuck in the river, or pricked by a cactus), the two kids go looking for the goat in every place imaginable, including the hen house and the barn. Kitzel cannot be found. Then the kids notice the back door to the house is wide open. Inside is Kitzel, standing on the kitchen table, belly full of hamantashen cookies. Rebecca’s mom is now out of everything the kids need to make the cookies. Can they have a Purim festival without the traditional cookies?
Sweet Tamales for Purim is a culturally based story inspired by the true events covered in the synopsis and the story of Queen Esther and Mordecai. Not knowing the story, Rebecca uses a framed slate (pre-pre-iPad), to explain the story. Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, King Ahashuerus’ advisor. As punishment, Haman plots to hurt the Jewish people. (The king ruled over a land where many Jewish people lived.) Mordecai exposes the plot to Queen Esther, begging her to ask the king to intercede, but the king does not know Esther is a Jew. She finds a way to tell him and then begs him to stop Haman, which he does. The Purim festival/party honors Queen Esther and the saving of the Jewish people.
In Rebecca’s little town, not all are Jewish. People come from all over to restart their lives in the Wild West. Townsfolk share customs and traditions as a way to meet other residents. These are community events—no one is excluded.
Children will like the story, especially when Kitzel snacks on all the cookies. The other very kid-friendly character is Henny, the egg-laying resident of the chicken coop. Both Kitzel and Henny attend the Purim party, beginning with Kitzel pulling the cart with all the Purim treats, while wearing a sombrero and a bright poncho. Henny follows the cart as if coaching Kitzel to move faster. She wears a bright blue dress and triangular hat.
The illustrations will grab children’s attention as they listening to the story. While overall, the illustrations are bright, colorful, and have great detail.Take your time to check out the walls in the homes and other incidental images. Kitzel is mostly a cream colored goat with brown beautiful eyes. Yet, on one spread, the goat has no eye color (maybe the eyes are closed), and the image is unsettling, as if he is a ghost. The other thing I did not like is the background of tiny black graph dots in the background of any colorful image (this could be a printer problem).
Sweet Tamales for Purim is a wonderful story for early grade classrooms when learning of cultures and traditions. The story can easily be the jumping off point for a great discussion. When looking for a culturally diverse story, Sweet Tamales for Purim should be near the top of most lists.
My favorite scene occurs in two different locations. While the hamantashen cookies bake, the kitchen smells delicious. Rebecca’s mother says the house smells like love. While the sweet tamales boil, Luis’ mother says, “Nuestra casa huele a amor.” (Translation: Our house smells like love.) Love is the official treat-making house smell.
Illustrations Rendered in watercolors with a Southwestern palette.
Available at Amazon
SWEET TAMELES FOR PURIM. Text Copyright © 2020 by Barbara Bietz. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by John Kanzler. Published by August House LittleFolk, Atlanta, GA.
Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
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