Muriel assumes her family is too poor to hold a Passover Seder this year-- but an act of kindness and a mysterious magician change everything.
It's the Spring of 1933 in Washington D.C., and the Great Depression is hitting young Muriel's family hard. Her father has lost his job, and her family barely has enough food most days, let alone for a Passover Seder. They don't even have any wine to leave out for the prophet Elijah's ceremonial cup.
With no feast to rush home to, Muriel wanders by the Lincoln Memorial, where she encounters a mysterious magician in whose hands juggled eggs become lit candles. After she makes a kind gesture, he encourages her to run home for her Seder, and when she does, she encounters a holiday miracle, a bountiful feast of brisket, soup, and matzah.
But who was this mysterious benefactor? When Muriel sees Elijah's ceremonial cup is empty, she has a good idea.
This fresh retelling of the classic I.L. Peretz story, best known through Uri Shulevitz's 1973 adaptation The Magician, has been illustrated by graphic novelist Sean Rubin, who based his art on photographs of D.C. in the 1930s. An author note with information about the holiday is included.
Susan Kusel has turned a life as a book lover into many careers as an author, librarian, and bookseller. She has served on lots of book award committees, including the 2015 Caldecott committee. Her debut book, The Passover Guest, illustrated by Sean Rubin will be published in January 2021 with Neal Porter Books/Holiday House.
2022 Sydney Taylor Picture Book Award winner? Use this story to introduce the Passover to your children or students. If you traditionally share Easter stories, how about sharing this and springtime stories from other faith traditions in 2022?
This is a kid's book that the Washington Post recently recommended in a column on "best books about DC"; I picked up a copy for my niece and then, since I had it, figured I should read it. If I'd read it in advance, I'm . . . not sure I would have bought it. The illustrations are fantastic, inspired by Chagall without imitating him. There is a cat that hides out in various places on various page which seems like a fun toddler game to try and spot. The text . . . I have three problems with the text.
First, I'm just not that inspired by the plot, which is basically "poor couple miraculously receives Passover feast from Elijah, that's it, that's the story." I realize the book is an adaptation of a nineteenth century story by Peretz, but as a modern reader I find it narrative uninteresting that the protagonists do nothing. They don't even pray! Just, boom, feast appears. Second, the language level is all over the map, throwing in big words that don't need to be there ("ceremonial" stood out to me in particular); it also doesn't read aloud with anything resembling rhythm.
Third, dear WaPo, this is not a good book about DC. It is excruciatingly obvious that the author is a suburbanite who occasionally drives into DC to do tourist things, which explains why her child protagonist walks multiple miles out of her way to pass the Lincoln Memorial on her way home for dinner. In her Author's Note the author says she's always thought of the Lincoln as the "town square" of DC, an observation that made me go audibly "bzuh?" I have nothing against the Lincoln! It's a perfectly nice memorial! It's also, largely on account of being extremely out of the way, not a place anyone who lives in DC actually goes (unless they're showing around out of town guests). If you want to write a book about people who live in DC, maybe set it in places that people who live in DC frequent? As is, there's just no DC atmosphere here at all.
Inspired by a classic Yiddish tale by I.L. Peretz and the 1973 Uri Shulevitz’s adaptation, The Magician, this gorgeous picture book is bound to become a modern classic. Set in Washington D.C. during the Great Depression, Muriel’s kindness to a stranger shortly before the start of Passover, sparks a special visit from Elijah the Prophet. What transpires next is wondrous and unforgettable.
Filled with warmth, love, family, friendship, and community, this is a must for anyone who wants to add a little more light into the holiday of Passover or introduce the topic to children.
I see this as a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Award for Picture Books.
2/11/2022 It's 1933 and America is in the grip of the fourth year of the Great Depression. Little Muriel is enjoying the springtime cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin, a free activity that keeps her mind off of how little food her family has even on ordinary days, much less as Passover draws near. Spying an entertainer on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, she gives him her last penny in appreciation of his dazzling efforts.
When the street magician reminds her that the sun is setting and she ought to hurry home for seder, she admits that her family doesn't have any food for her to hurry home to. With a kind twinkle, he asks whether she's sure, prompting her to rush home past the Washington Monument and the White House. But back at home, the dining table is still empty, her parents merely waiting for her so that they might visit the homes of friends who may but probably don't have any food either. Just as they're heading out tho, a miracle occurs that will save Passover for their entire Jewish community.
This was a heartwarming retelling of I. L. Peretz's classic Yiddish tale The Magician, originally set in Poland but transplanted here for young American audiences. As with any good fable, it survives transplantation well, thriving especially in its use of that very specific Washington DC milieu. Tho, as someone who's literally run around DC a lot, I do find myself more boggled at the idea that little Muriel would run from the Lincoln Monument all the way up to, as I'm deducing from the book since she goes by the White House, 7th St near I than at any of the other fantastic elements of the story. That's a 40+ minute walk even for an adult! Having Elijah show up to Passover is more realistic to me than that! I guess kids were allowed to roam further by themselves back in the day (she says, dubiously.)
But, y'know, I'm applying too much logic to an otherwise charming fable that imparts Jewish lore and religion in a highly accessible way. Sean Rubin's illustrations are beautiful and vividly colored, paying homage to Marc Chagall in a kid-friendly way that still feels very much Sean Rubin. It's always a treat to see Washington DC lovingly and correctly depicted in popular media; putting a spotlight on the city's Jewish heritage is wonderful, as well. Little wonder that The Passover Guest won the 2022 Sydney Taylor Award for Picture Book, presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.
The Passover Guest by Susan Kusel & Sean Rubin was published January 19th 2021 by Neal Porter Books and is available from all good booksellers, including Bookshop!
It's the eve of Passover 1933 and in the midst the Depression, no one is able to prepare a proper Seder. That includes young Muriel and her family. They barely have wine to pour into Elijah's cup for when he visits. On her way home, Muriel sees a magician in threadbare clothes juggling eggs that turn into lit candles as his clothing changes into silk. Amazed, Muriel gives him her only penny. The magician tells her to hurry home for her Seder, and even knowing there is no food in the house, Muriel heads home to her apartment, where she finds her parents sitting in front of Elijah's almost empty cup. When there is a knock on the door, it is the magician who points out the suddenly and miraculously overly full Seder table, complete with everything needed. Unsure about this, Muriel rushes to the rabbi's house, who returns home with Muriel and a crowd of others who also had empty Seder tables. Everyone enjoys their now wonderful first night of Passover, but Muriel wonders how did this miracle happen? Then she sees Elijah's now empty cup and has the answer to her question. Based on the original Yiddish tale "The Magician" by I.L. Peretz (Der Kuntsenmakher, 1917), Kusel's retelling feels fresh and carries a message of faith and hope that today's readers can really benefit from. The original story took place in a shtetl, this version is set during the Great Depression for today's readers living through a pandemic where so many have felt economic hardship again. The illustrations, done with graphite and digital color, nicely contrast spring's awakening in Washington DC in bright sunny colors with the poverty of so many of it's residents, including Muriel's family, done in dark shades of brown and gray. Back matter includes A Note from the Author, A Note from the Artist, and A Note on the Passover Holiday. This book was an eARC gratefully received from Edelweiss+
I loved this story of a family in the midst of the depression who have no food to celebrate their seder for Passover. The setting is in Washington D.C., and the cherry trees are in full bloom. The story helps explain the meaning of both Passover and seder, as to short more detailed explanations given at the end. And the illustrations are gorgeous, even the front and back covers. This is a beautiful book for a child who may not know of Jewish traditions, or one who does!
This book is a love song to both Washington, DC and Passover traditions. Susan Kusel and Sean Rubin have beautifully reimagined a classic story for young readers. Everything about this book is magical.
A lovely passover story. A mysterious stranger joins Muriel's family seder at the height of the Great Depression. Muriel's family have no food, but the stranger brings everything they need in a Passover miracle.
Muriel's family has no food with which to celebrate their Passover seder for it is 1933 and the country is in a deep economic depression. Muriel sees a ragged magician who so delights her with his tricks that she puts her only penny in his hat. The magician urges her to head for home for the seder, and when she arrives, she finds an opulent feast has appeared.
This picture book for children ages 4 and older retells the famous I.L. Peretz story, “The Magician,” originally written in Yiddish and illustrated by Marc Chagall, the most famous Jewish painter of the 20th century.
Peretz’s story riffed on Jewish folklore tales about Elijah the Prophet, whose appearance is hoped for during the Passover Seder, the ritual meal commemorating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. At the seder, a chair is always left empty for Elijah, a special cup of wine is poured at the place set for him, and when possible, the front door is left open to facilitate his arrival.
In Jewish tradition, Elijah has had a number of roles making him a most welcome Passover guest, including the herald of the Messiah, miracle worker, healer, and promoter of social justice and welfare.
This current book is set in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1933 during the Great Depression. It recounts what happened to Muriel, a young girl who was not looking forward to the Passover Seder celebration because her family was too poor to have one.
In spite of having next to nothing, Muriel gave her last penny to a magician seeking donations who entertained her on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He advised her to hurry home so she didn’t miss her seder.
Miriam was somewhat disbelieving that her family would be having a seder, yet the man was - after all - a worker in magic, and he sounded so confident! She hurried home past the beautiful monuments and memorials, back to her apartment. When she opened the door, however, there was only an empty table.
Then she and her parents heard a knock at the door, and a mysterious stranger asked to join them for their seder. Muriel’s father said, “You are welcome to share anything we have, but this year, we have nothing.” The man responded, “I have everything we need.”
Suddenly the room was no longer shabby and the table was overflowing with food. Muriel ran to get the rabbi and ask if they could proceed with the astonishing meal. He and his curious guests followed Muriel back home. The stranger was gone but the cornucopia of food was still there, and they all celebrated together. By the empty cup set out for Elijah, there sat the penny Muriel had given the magician.
The author and illustrator both add notes after the end of the story, and there is also an explanation of the Passover holiday.
Illustrator Sean Rubin reports that he wanted his work to harken back to Chagall’s approach to art, reflecting aspects of Chagall's typical palette, as well as his unique arrangements of color, lighting, and surrealist images. Rubin has chosen to idenity the time of year for readers by the beautiful profusion of cherry blossoms, and enhances the narrative's suggestion of community cohesion by his street scenes in the Jewish neighborhood that evoke the close-knit shtetl, albeit updated. (Shtetls were small Jewish villages that existed in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust.) In addition, Muriel’s red hat - always causing her to stand out in every scene - reminded me of the little girl in the red coat in “Schindler’s List.” The red coat is said to have represented hope, innocence, and the continuation of Jewish life and tradition, and I think the same could be said of Muriel in her red hat.
Evaluation: This book is not an ordinary picture book, in the sense that it is actually a “page turner” - readers will be champing at the bit to find out what happens after Muriel hurries home. I also loved the way that an old Yiddish folktale was retold rather faithfully in spite of the new world setting.
The book features an excellent message that is not explicitly articulated, but doesn’t need to be: small acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion are not only “mitzvahs” (or good deeds) in and of themselves. Occasionally, they can even yield repayment in ways you could never have imagined. It could take the form of tangible rewards, but regardless there will be the intangible but more lasting benefits of making you a better person and the world a better place.
This reimagining of I. L. Peretz’s 1904 Yiddish story “Der Kunzen-Macher” (“The Magician”) follows Muriel, a young girl living in Washington, D.C., during the Great Depression. On the first night of Passover, a magician at the Lincoln Memorial encourages Muriel to return home for the Seder, and she does, though she knows her family can’t afford a holiday meal. Muriel is amazed when the stranger knocks on her door and even more so when, a moment later, an extravagant feast appears on the family’s table. When the meal earns the rabbi’s approval, the whole neighborhood enjoys a festive evening. It isn’t until Muriel notices that Elijah’s wineglass is now empty that “she knew who the mysterious stranger was.” In the book’s stunning mixed-media art, each double-page spread conveys emotion through color and light. Pale pink cherry blossoms contrast with the dreary browns and grays of people standing in a food line; Muriel’s empty home is shaded an appropriately gloomy blue-green; after the magician’s visit, joyful yellow candlelight illuminates a table crowded with brisket and matzo ball soup. (An illustrator’s note cites the influence of Marc Chagall; look for stained glass windows, too.) While there have been several adaptations of Peretz’s tale (e.g., Shulevitz’s The Magician), this version’s message of hope during dark times feels especially relevant now, and the young protagonist and vividly depicted setting make the story accessible to picture-book audiences. A note on the significance and traditions of the Jewish holiday is included.
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 they celebrate the Passover seder when they can’t even fill Elijah’s cup with a splash of wine?
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.
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.
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.
Recommended for 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!
This inspiring picture book suffused with faith, hope, and charity, is a 3.5 for me. Not only did I appreciate the colorful and historically accurate illustrations, created with graphite and then enhanced through Photoshop and based on actual photographs of Washington, DC, the book's setting, in the 1930s, but I smiled as I read the text. There are very few picture books that address the Great Depression, making this particular one unique. The story follows Muriel, whose family has very little money with which to buy the necessary foods for Passover. Muriel is wandering along the city streets, not particularly in a hurry to return home where the cupboards are nearly bare, when she comes upon a magician who is juggling various objects that change from one thing to another. She is so impressed that she leaves a penny for the man. He, in turn, returns her kindness and urges her to go back home quickly. There's nothing there, and the table is just as bare as Muriel expected it to be. But the stranger has followed her, and when he arrives, the table is filled with food, a Passover miracle that the family shares with its neighbors. The identity of that benevolent stranger is revealed on the last page. Anyone in search of a feel-good book with a positive message will find it here. It's worthwhile to read the notes from the author and the illustrator, respectively, as well as a brief note about Passover. This is an engaging retelling of a classic story. Hopefully, this version will reach a new audience.
I think this book is one of the most beautiful Jewish children's book I've ever read. It's deep, engaging, spiritual, hopeful, ethical, meaningful, and full of love. The text is beautiful; both the story and the writing. I think the illustrations work extraordinarily well with it. Kudos to Sean Rubin for choosing Chagall colors. They convey the somberness of the Depression Era setting and the magic of the Jewish legend as well. The pictures of Muriel are adorable; very human and full of agency, intensity, and drama. I love them. The book is extremely moving. The text melds the old Eastern European legend with the details of Washington D.C. in the 1930's. That couldn't have been an easy task and it's beautifully done. It's modern and American, set at a time that right now has strong and important parallels to our own, and the text manages to make the old magic of the legend fully alive in that setting. What a difficult and wonderful thing to pull off. So this book is particularly relevant and helpful for our time. The last page is a knock out. It made me want to cry and laugh at the same time. I think and hope this book will be a long-lived Jewish children's classic. Huge congratulations to the author and illustrator and editor and publisher for this one. It's gorgeous, and exactly the kind of Jewish children's literature needed today. I want to say thanks.
I love the historical context this book Is taking place in. This is taking place during the Great Depression in spring of 1933 in Washington D.C. Susan gives insight to the reader on the social and economic struggles families had to go through, even during such a special time to celebrate the Passover Feast. Muriel was a young girl minding her business. She ran into a stranger at the Monument and he encouraged her to go home to attend the Sedar Meal. I love how her repsonse was to immediately go home in hopes to see the holy meal prepared before her. Susan builds the climax by dirving the eagerness home. The lack of rsources and the presence fo struggles triggered compassion and empathy for me. It made me as the reader long for a miracle for the family. My favorite part about this story is that this miracle was delivered and spread through a child. This can be an empowering book to young readers who don’t know what to do with the passion that is inside of them. I love the graphite definition the illustrations present. The color choices made me feel at home. The facial expressions of the characters in the story also made me feel what they were feeling. Muriel’s family looked really humble and generous.
A holiday story with a historical setting that opens with beautiful spring cherry trees in bloom contrasted with Hooverville and wooden shacks, soup lines, thin faces, threadbare clothes. Bright illustrations began to darken as the day turns to night but also taller buildings close in and a blue lit room when the girl gets home. It looks empty, chilly in the first look but the blue seems warmer when the stranger arrives and looks in. Of course, brightness fills the room along with food and colors brighten again in following pages. It's evening but now it doesn't seem so desolate. There's also the idea of sharing, no matter how little you might have, and getting more in return than you ever thought possible. A story of miracles, community, and hopefulness.
Hatch marks are used in the artwork for texture and shading. The illustrator's note talks about the influence of Chagall and it is evident including the homage with the blue cat among the cherry blossoms in the end papers, curled up on a stair the girl runs past, peering into her house as the stranger arrives, under the table, and on other pages as well (also a Chagall-like chicken on one page). The fluidity of the man juggling eggs that change to candles also brings to mind Chagall's flying/floating people. The warm colors of the Lincoln Memorial with the setting sun matches the warmth the girl hears from the juggler.
Good notes at the end from both author and illustrator, including a note about the Passover Holiday -- this might have been better at the beginning.
The Passover Guest written by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin 2022 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner for the Picture Book category, Kusel rewrites Uri Shulevitz’s 1973 The Magician which itself is an interpretation of I. L. Peretz’s well known Der Kunzen-Macher. Kusel and Rubin’s version takes place in Washington D.C. in 1933, the worst year of the Great Depression, with young Muriel meeting the magician on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Kusel explains in an author’s note why she chose the setting and time period. Rubin’s colorful illustrations bring the city to life with attractively detailed faces and clothing. His use of rich blues and greens in shadows and celebration welcome the reader to the Passover seder. While Kusel uses words to describe the miracle and feast, Rubin uses every available space for his illustrations. Included are both author and artist notes describing their personal connection to the story along with A Note on the Passover Holiday for both young and non-Jewish readers. A beautifully crafted picture book from cover to cover, well deserving of its award.
One of Susan Kusel's favorite stories as a child was "The Magician" - and this is a retelling of that tale, set in Washington, DC in 1933. The story is indeed magical. As a young girl makes her way home on the first day of Passover, she knows that there will be no Seder feast awaiting her arrival. It is the Depression and her family has no money for food, let alone a feast. She encounters a beggar performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and is fascinated by his antics so she drops a penny into his hat. Little does she know that this is much more than a poor beggar! The illustrations are particularly lovely - Sean Rubin explains that he was inspired by the artist Marc Chagall. You will want to spend some time admiring his work! There are notes at the end of the book from the author and the illustrator along with a short explanation of Passover and the Seder feast. This book is a good way to introduce the Seder to kids that do not know about it and also a great addition to Passover collections for children.
Kusel's adaptation of the classic I.L.Peretz story is full of magic and wonder. It was the 2022 Sydney Taylor Award winner in the picture book category.
Set during the Great Depression in 1933 Washington D.C., Muriel is wandering around the Tidal Basin admiring the blooming cherry trees. As she wanders by the Lincoln Memorial, she encounters an unusual street magician. When he comes to her house, a seder filled with enough food for for the community magically appears.
Kusel's well-crafted text has a melodic pacing to it, as it magically skips along until the end. There is a strong sense of place as a character here. One feels transported back in time. Mixed media artwork by Sean Rubin are filled with charm and detail of the time period. They, too, offer visual magic to the reader through use of strong colors, line, perspective, and accuracy of place.
It is refreshing to hear a Passover story like this - a modern tale of a modern miracle. Wonder of wonders!
This year, Passover begins on April 15th. While I don't celebrate, I saw this book won the Sydney Taylor book award and I have enjoyed Susan Kusel earlier books so thought I'd enjoy reading this one. She remembers reading the story as a child titled The Magician by Uri Shulevtz, a story written in Yiddish over a hundred years ago by I.L Peretz. This time, she has set the story in Washington D.C. in 1933, the hardest time of the Depression. Young girl Muriel assumes her family is too poor to hold a Passover Seder this year— but an act of kindness and a mysterious magician changes everything. All the parts are there about a seder, but the special part is watching the joy in Muriel's face as she discovers the miracle that waits for her at home. Sean Rubin has a connection he describes in his note at the end with Chagall, one of the few Jewish artists he discovered as he grew up. The illustrations fill the pages with much emotion, the sadness of need in the Depression, then the joy of a wondrous event. Susan Kusel also leaves a note and more about the Passover Holiday.
It is 1933 in Washington D.C., and Muriel does not expect much for their Passover seder. There just isn't much food to be had. But when a stranger Muriel saw doing magic tricks in the park knocks on the door asking to join them, Muriel's father doesn't hesitate to let him share in whatever they have. And when the family looks back to see what they have, they are shocked.
This is evidently a reimagining of a short story called "The Magician" that imagines Elijah showing up for a needy family's Passover. I highly recommend reading the author and illustrator notes in the back of the book about their inspiration and research for this book. It is very informative, and shows the depth of research that went into picking the setting for this reimagining of this story. It definitely increased my appreciation for this book. There's also a note on Passover in the back for anyone not familiar with this Jewish holiday.
THE PASSOVER GUEST is such a beautiful and heartwarming story, a tale of magic during a difficult historical time period. During the Great Depression, Muriel knows her family has no money for their Passover seder. She gives her last coin to a magician on the Lincoln Memorial steps who then tells her she must hurry home to her family's meal. Yet when Muriel arrives home, she finds nothing but her parents dressed in their best clothes. Then suddenly the same magician arrives, bringing food, and wine and candles. It's a miracle! As someone who worked in Washington, D.C. for many years, I found myself exploring Sean Rubin's detailed illustrations over and over again, looking for glimpses of my favorite landmarks. This is such a beautiful retelling of a classic tale, a perfect story of wonder and magic triumphing over everyday struggle.
It is 1933 and people are out of work and struggling to put food on the table for their families. As Muriel heads home, she sees a man on the step of the Lincoln Memorial. He is juggling eggs that turn to candles as his clothes turn from rags to silk and his hair from brown to red. Murial is amazed and gives him her last penny. The man smiles and tells her she should get home for her seder, but she tells him they aren’t having one because they can’t afford the food. “Are you sure? Perhaps you’d better hurry home.”
Her gesture of kindness leads to a Passover miracle for all to experience. Beautiful illustrations.
2022 ALA Sydney Taylor Picture book Award A fresh retelling of I. L. Peretz’s Dear Kunzen-Macher is set in Washington, D.C. during the Great Depression. After giving her only penny to the juggler on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Muriel goes home to her Seder-less home, only to have the mysterious stranger knock at their door asking to join the family’s Seder. When told he is welcome, but they have nothing, the guest provides all, and the rabbi declares it a Passover miracle. Illustrator Sean Rubin took inspiration for his lush paintings from 1933 photographs of Washington, and his own lifelong love of the Jewish painter, Marc Chagall. Both the Author and Artist include Notes.
This retelling of The Magician takes place in Washington D.C. during the Great Depression. The Passover holiday is a time to remember the Jews' escape from slavery in Egypt with a religious service and a festive meal, but it's a hard time when Muriel's dad lost his job. She gives her last penny to a man performing tricks near the Lincoln Memorial. He shows up at her family's door and magically the table is full of food and even a glass of wine for the prophet Elijah. Unsure of what to do, Muriel brings the rabbi over, and it leads to a community-wide celebration during a poor time. I had never read this story before, but this one is well done!