Meet the Hamantaschen

  • Review
By – March 10, 2022

Alan Sil­ber­berg has amused and edu­cat­ed young read­ers with Meet the Latkes and Meet the Matzah. But if there is one Jew­ish food that seems the fun­ni­est that might be the fun­ni­est, it’s the three-cor­nered pas­try asso­ci­at­ed with Purim. In Meet the Haman­taschen, Sil­ber­berg finds a new premise for intro­duc­ing the hol­i­day of both Jew­ish self-preser­va­tion and out­ra­geous­ly zany cel­e­bra­tions. This time, the tra­di­tion­al treat is the object of a detec­tive sto­ry, includ­ing all the off-beat humor and deep love for Yid­dishkeit that have made Silberberg’s series a success.

Right away, the unusu­al angle of this Purim-themed sto­ry cap­tures the reader’s atten­tion. Mys­ter­ies involve the appli­ca­tion of rea­son, and Purim is all about turn­ing rea­son on its head. In spite of this para­dox, be assured that Silberberg’s sig­na­ture silli­ness is still at the fore­front. His haman­taschen detec­tives are tasked with a great respon­si­bil­i­ty: find­ing the miss­ing megillah, with­out which the holiday’s nar­ra­tive can­not be heard. Three hard­boiled, or rather baked, crime-solvers are on the scene, straight out of a 1930s mys­tery movie. When a mys­te­ri­ous stranger meets them under a street­light, pre­sent­ing a fact file cru­cial to their task, they don’t flinch.

Not a page goes by with­out clever rhymes, fun­ny puns, or per­son­al­i­ty-reveal­ing state­ments, such as the gefilte fish who nos­tal­gi­cal­ly states, I miss Tu B’Shvat.” There is a method to Silberberg’s mad­ness; all of these atten­tion-grab­bing gim­micks teach chil­dren about Purim. Delib­er­ate anachro­nisms add to the story’s attrac­tion. Queen Vashti could not actu­al­ly have plant­ed a com­put­er chip in King Ahasuerus’s brain, but it would have been the per­fect revenge for a hus­band who sought to con­trol every­one around him. While the events of Purim def­i­nite­ly pre­date base­ball, America’s favorite pas­time would have been per­fect at the court of a monarch who loved to be enter­tained. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of dif­fer­ent times and places sets Silberberg’s works, includ­ing this lat­est, apart from oth­er hol­i­day books. As every read­er of fairy tales knows, the past speaks to the present.

Haman­taschen are not the only foods to par­tic­i­pate in solv­ing the mys­tery; blintzes, matzah balls, and kre­plach also play cru­cial roles. Instead of com­part­men­tal­iz­ing each Jew­ish hol­i­day, Sil­ber­berg prefers to invite many dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al mark­ers into the mix. Each one takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to indulge in hilar­i­ous shtick but also to cor­rect mis­con­cep­tions and present accu­rate facts: “… Queen Esther was Jew­ish and felt forced to hide who she tru­ly was.”

Every dish depict­ed is unique­ly per­son­i­fied. Melvin the matzah ball, as the king, sports round glass­es and a scruffy beard. Bar­ry the kre­plach has an appro­pri­ate­ly dev­il­ish mus­tache and goa­tee, and the hero­ine Esther is a love­ly, crowned rugelach. Char­ac­ters’ exag­ger­at­ed fea­tures, as well as word bub­bles filled with upper-case let­ters and excla­ma­tion marks, appeal to the artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ties of chil­dren. By the end of the book, read­ers will cer­tain­ly agree with the refrain repeat­ed by the haman­taschens’ friend, Cook­book: We know what we knew … But now what we know is THE NEWEST.”

Meet the Haman­taschen is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed and includes a Purim glossary.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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