The Three Latkes

Eric Kim­mel, Fer­o­nia Park­er-Thomas (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – November 22, 2021

Eric Kim­mel and Fer­o­nia Parker-Thomas’s new Hanukkah pic­ture book begins like a fairy tale: once upon a time, there were three latkes. Chil­dren will rec­og­nize a famil­iar fable with char­ac­ters who have some qual­i­ties in com­mon but are also dif­fer­ent. While almost every­one may like pota­to pan­cakes, espe­cial­ly dur­ing Hanukkah, rea­son­able peo­ple may dis­agree about which kind are best. In this charm­ing sto­ry, latkes made from red, yel­low, and gold pota­toes argue over which one is best. Even the dif­fer­ent kinds of fat used for fry­ing pro­mote them­selves as most ide­al. Is there real­ly a defin­i­tive answer to this age-old ques­tion? Curi­ous read­ers will want to know, but they will also learn a les­son about point­less boasting.

Kimmel’s nar­ra­tion is low-key; the latkes’ self-impor­tant boasts are a bit sil­ly, but their com­pe­ti­tion is not actu­al­ly hos­tile. Chil­dren will obvi­ous­ly rec­og­nize the char­ac­ters’ inter­ac­tions as typ­i­cal of school and play­time, where every­one wants to stand out by being spe­cial in some way. They begin with unsub­stan­ti­at­ed claims of great­ness but move on to offer­ing evi­dence to sup­port their claims. Veg­etable oil adds beau­ti­ful col­or, chick­en schmaltz is tasty, and peanut oil is the health­i­est. (No doubt, adults read­ing with their chil­dren will have strong opin­ions about some of these asser­tions). Just as chil­dren often need an adult to medi­ate their con­flicts, the latkes call in their own author­i­ty, a hun­gry and clever cat. Kimmel’s end­ing recalls folk­lore clas­sics where words and actions have con­se­quences, although he off­sets the mes­sage with humor. After all, every­one knows that the fate of a latke is to be eat­en and enjoyed.

The sim­plic­i­ty of the pic­tures adds to the sense that this hol­i­day sto­ry is meant as a fan­ta­sy. There are rel­a­tive­ly few detailed ele­ments on each page, focus­ing atten­tion on the latkes, the cat, and the book’s over­all idea. The latkes are indi­vid­u­al­ized by their acces­sories: a base­ball cap, a fedo­ra, and a proud­ly worn gold medal, but their stick-fig­ure arms and legs remind read­ers that they are car­toon-like. The red pota­to push­es a jar of apple­sauce toward the cat, while the fool­ish yel­low latke fried in schmaltz is glad to dive into a bowl of sour cream. (Kosher dietary laws do not apply here.) The cat’s blue neck­er­chief gives him a human touch, as does the fact that he can sit in a chair and place his paws on the table. His facial expres­sions show that he is pleased to have out­wit­ted some not-very-clever crea­tures, and got­ten a deli­cious Hanukkah meal at the same time.

There are many cus­toms to enjoy dur­ing Hanukkah; eat­ing latkes is def­i­nite­ly high on the list for many chil­dren, as well as adults. Eric Kim­mel reminds them that there does not need to be a win­ner in the deli­cious ways to pre­pare this treat.

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed book includes a recipe for latkes.

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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