One of the most joyous features of children’s literature is the opportunity it provides children to spend some glorious time inhabiting a world yet to be explored. A Persian Passover gives today’s readers a glimpse into the lives of Persian Jews as they prepared for Passover according to their traditional customs; the differences in lifestyle are apparent, but so are the commonalities that enable young readers to both identify with and learn about a fascinating Jewish community that existed not that long ago in Iran.
Brother-sister pair Ezra and Roza, portrayed with giant smiles and rosy cheeks, are bursting with energy. Ezra loves to run, and Roza times his progress as he races around the neighborhood. Shortly before Passover, they watch an oven being built in the courtyard of the synagogue and Ezra explains to his younger sister that each family brings their own flour to this temporary oven so it can be baked into the matzah, which will be used on the holiday. When it is their turn to bring their family’s flour to the oven, the children race to the courtyard and hand their bag of flour to the team of bakers, who must speedily turn it into matzah within the required time for it to be kosher for Passover. They take their warm, freshly baked matzah and begin to race home. Of course, running with a precious possession has its obvious pitfalls; Ezra slips into an unnoticed puddle, and the matzah is ruined.
They enter the local market area to search for new matzah, but it is too close to the holiday for any to be brought. Along the way, they are given other special foods for their Passover seder. such as scallions and sweet candied almonds. Luckily, a neighbor has some matzah to spare and the kind, but lonely, neighbor is invited to share the seder with Ezra, Roza, and their family.
Lessons sweetly taught include careful handling of responsibilities, as well as hospitality and generosity, while introducing a set of colorful, evocative customs that may be different from the readers’ own.
The illustrations, with their deep, rich colors and carefully chosen details, suggest a vibrant, Middle Eastern world inhabited by a warm and caring community. Extensive backmatter includes information about the holiday, a rendering of a seder plate filled with traditional foods, a glossary of Hebrew and Persian terms, a capsule history of Persian Jewry, and a recipe for Persian-style charoset, a sweet mixture that is one of the seder plate delicacies.
The art, the historical background, and the easily relatable story of good-natured, but lively, children combine to give this picture book a special appeal.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.