Book Review Wednesday: The Matzah that Papa Brought Home

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Books with a “This is the House that Jack Built” format often use the first line as the title of the book. However, the first line is just a starting point from which to build the actual story. “This is the house that Jack built,” is not about the house at all but about the community around the house. Similarly, The Matzah that Papa Brought Home, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Ned Bittinger, is not about matzah at all but about the Passover seder.


With tight and lyrical rhyme, Manushkin captures the high points of the Passover Seder from a child’s point of view. The narrator is clearly the child of the “Papa” who brought home the matzah. The child voice is unmistakable in the fourth spread into the story, when we read, “This is me standing tall and proud/ to ask the Four Questions nice and loud/ during the Passover Seder we shared/ to eat the feast that Mama made/ with the matzah that Papa brought home.” This passage reveals that the narrator is the youngest child in this family and the illustration portrays a sweet six-year-old girl who is glowing with the responsibilities of her question-asking task. My inner-child especially connected with the line, “This is “Dayenu,” a very long song/ that we sang with our stomachs growling along…”


Bittinger’s paintings are rendered in oil paint on linen using deep shadow and glowing light to intensify emotion and lead the eye of the viewer around the painting. From the feast, to clearing the table, to the child trying to sneak a bit of matzah, the images capture the chaos and order of a Passover Seder. My favorite image is of the narrator sitting on Papa’s lap, each of them taking pinkies full of wine to diminish their pleasure while reciting the plagues. The figures are bathed in light, the background a deep brown/black but in the middle values, frogs and locusts hop, and rains fall on enslaved Hebrew workers. This dreamy sequence allows two stories, Manushkin’s and the Exodus, to be told at the same time.


The only issue I had with the book was the line, “This is the feast that Mama made with the matzah that Papa brought home.” I stumbled over this line when reading it aloud to my boys and we all looked at each other. My son said, “The roasted chicken [in the illustration] didn’t come from the matzah.” I agreed. Obviously, the feast was made to go along with the matzah but the syntax suggested that the whole feast was made from the matzah.


Scholastic published the book in 1995, and it is well worth the interlibrary loan. If you are looking to buy the book, it was reprinted in paperback in 2001 and should be available for order through your nearest Indie-bookshop. Happy Passover to all!



Busy Writer/Mom/Triathlete Links on Life

Oh goodness. It has been over a month, a month? since I’ve posted and I’m so sorry. That means I’ve done NO book review Wednesdays for a month. Ack. (And I thought those would keep me blogging.) March has been a month of deadlines and to excuse my absence I quickly fill you in on some of the deadlines that I’ve been meeting and working towards. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve probably see a lot of this already so my apologies.

March 1: Final illustrations for the book Fufu and Fresh Strawberries You can see some of those illustrations here.
Forum assignment for my Picture Book Certification Semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA)

March 15: Final egg paintings for the Great Goose Egg Auction. You can see the eggs here.

March 17: My 2nd packet was due for VCFA

March 22: Forum assignment for my Picture Book Certification Semester at VCFA

March 23: I did my first multisport event. An indoor triathlon at the Naval Air Station Brunswick. The event was a 1000 meter row on an ergometer, a 5 mile bike on a stationary lifefitness cycle, and a 1.5 mile treadmill run. You can see pictures of me and Mike (the gentleman paired with me)  in the event and read more about it in the captions here. I used this indoor triathlon to train for an event that I am doing in May, The Tri for the Casco Bay Y. If you’d like to donate a small bit to the scholarship funds and to my team the MIghty Mamas, please take a look at our fund raising page where you can donate online. I’ll be swimming and cycling and my friend Rachel will tag off to do the 5K run.

This past week I’ve been revising and polishing the first 10 pages of my novel, working on the synopsis and query letter for the deadlines associated with the New England SCBWI spring conference critiques and quick queries. While the Friday and Saturday registration is full, there are still spots for Sunday so check it out.

I also just got back from the post office, where I was sending a picture book to for the April 1st scholarship deadline at VCFA and a trip to the library where I was stocking up with a new load of 25 picture books for VCFA Packet 3!

All of this with my husband out of state for the first three weeks of March and two kids who need me.

So you see, I’ve been an extremely busy Writer/Mom/Triathlete but we’ll see if April, with its extended sunshine hours, allows me to find more time to blog. Happy Passover to all who celebrate. Look for my Wednesday review of the book: The Matzoh That Papa Brought Home.

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