The Ped­dler and the Baker

Yael Molchad­sky, Lio­ra Gross­man (illus.)

  • Review
By – May 23, 2020

The folk tale is a time-hon­ored vehi­cle for trans­mit­ting ethics and val­ues to a new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers and lis­ten­ers, as well as enter­tain­ing them with sto­ries redo­lent of times gone by. When the tales are told with a deft touch and are nei­ther didac­tic nor stilt­ed, the lessons learned may be retained for a lifetime.

The Ped­dler and the Bak­er tells the sto­ry of an hon­est, sim­ple-heart­ed ped­dler who wakes up each morn­ing sniff­ing the delec­table aro­ma of fresh­ly-baked bread waft­ing through the town. Ah, such bliss! By sim­ply breath­ing, the ped­dler is immersed in a sen­su­al­ly delight­ful expe­ri­ence which is evoca­tive of com­fort­able homes, plen­ti­ful sus­te­nance, and warmth. The town bak­er, though, believes the heav­en­ly aro­ma belongs to him. After all, wasn’t it his labor and his ingre­di­ents which result­ed in the bread being baked at all? He has devised a clever scam, inform­ing the ped­dler he needs to pay a fee for inhal­ing the pre­cious scent. The ped­dler is a poor man and his hard work cov­ers his basic needs, but he has no extra mon­ey to pay for deli­cious smells. Final­ly, with much effort, he man­ages to accu­mu­late a few extra coins to set­tle his debt with the bak­er but he knows he won’t be able to con­tin­ue to pay the bak­er for the aro­ma of the bread he bakes every day.

The rab­bi is called in to medi­ate the dis­pute. The bak­er makes his case con­vinc­ing­ly and the dis­cour­aged ped­dler hands the rab­bi his pre­cious bag of hard-earned coins. The sat­is­fied bak­er reach­es out to take the bag, but the rab­bi stops him, giv­ing the bag a vig­or­ous shake so all can hear the musi­cal clink of the coins inside. The rab­bi com­ments on the pleas­ant jin­gle and reminds all the par­ties that sound is as valu­able a com­mod­i­ty as smell. The sound pro­duced by the jin­gling of the coins is the per­fect pay­ment for the aro­ma of bak­ing bread. The ped­dler can take his hard-earned mon­ey home again.

The lessons taught by this sim­ple, well-told tale are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly self-evi­dent and sophis­ti­cat­ed. The reader’s pri­ma­ry take-away is that greed doesn’t pay, but there are many oth­er eth­i­cal issues embed­ded in the sim­ple prose: hon­esty, the val­ue of hard work, the ben­e­fits of ask­ing learned advice, and, impor­tant­ly, the joy of a cre­ative approach to a problem.

The rab­bi is not car­i­ca­tured in this charm­ing sto­ry and, along with the humor, a sense of respect shines through.

The illus­tra­tion is just as spec­tac­u­lar as the wit­ty text, using appeal­ing mut­ed tones, facial expres­sion, and body lan­guage. The artist’s ren­di­tion of a bustling, pro­duc­tive, yet gen­er­al­ly serene town is superb. Two small chil­dren, peek­ing out over the stair­way wall, and book­cas­es crammed with clear­ly beloved and well-used books are exam­ples of the artist’s atten­tion to detail. The illus­tra­tions part­ner with the win­some text to both enter­tain and educate.

Append­ed is an easy-to-make chal­lah recipe so read­ers can cre­ate the entic­ing aro­ma (and taste) of fresh bread in their own homes.

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.

Discussion Questions