And a Cat From Carmel Market

Alyssa Satin Capu­cil­li, Rotem Teplow (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – May 26, 2021

A bubbe vis­its her local shuk, which is Tel Aviv’s Carmel Mar­ket. She has set out to find her usu­al Shab­bat neces­si­ties: chal­lah, can­dles, and chick­en for soup. But this bubbe is espe­cial­ly ener­getic, demand­ing, and resource­ful. In her funky flo­ral sweater and lace-up sneak­ers, she goes from booth to booth, pick­ing up treats from noo­dles to hal­vah and some­how arrives home with a crazy col­lec­tion of cats ready to take over her Fri­day night meal. Alyssa Satin Capu­cil­li and Rotem Teplow have trans­formed the fig­ure of a lov­able Jew­ish grand­moth­er into the star of her own show. Their sim­ple, rhyth­mic text and del­i­cate­ly col­ored images depict both a mul­ti­cul­tur­al, mod­ern Israel and the tra­di­tion­al matri­arch whose light­ing of can­dles ensures a joy­ous Shab­bat. From the begin­ning, Bubbe appears capa­ble and orga­nized, but emo­tion­al, as well. She car­ries a list and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly fills her cart with ingre­di­ents for a deli­cious meal, encom­pass­ing both Ashke­naz­ic and Sephardic tastes. Pota­toes, car­rots, and squash for kugel share space with figs, pome­gran­ates, chick­peas, and mint. No expla­na­tion of this mixed cui­sine is nec­es­sary, since Teplow’s pic­tures show peo­ple with dif­fer­ent skin col­ors and style of dress, a diver­si­ty reflect­ed in her own fam­i­ly when they join togeth­er at her table. The market’s rich­ness of both prod­ucts and peo­ple appear in detail, from the array of care­ful­ly drawn fruits and veg­eta­bles to the busy urban activ­i­ty of mer­chants and cus­tomers. Ele­ments of mag­ic sub­tly sneak into this real­is­tic scene. Bubbe sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly recites all the foods which she pur­chas­es, but she also needs to stop and lis­ten to an accordionist’s music, and, in one pic­ture, effort­less­ly jug­gle fruit through the air. Mean­while, whether drawn by the smell of food or sim­ply to join Bubbe on her quest, cats begin to join her in almost over­whelm­ing num­bers. Each one is indi­vid­u­al­ly por­trayed and engaged in dif­fer­ent activ­i­ties. A cat, with an almost human expres­sion on its face, sits on her shoul­der, watch­ing intent­ly while Bubbe holds up the per­fect olive. Anoth­er nes­tles in a bou­quet of flow­ers, while one more hides in Bubbe’s cart with only his long tail pro­trud­ing out. By the time Bubbe is at her house and ready to cook, the cats have remained, qui­et­ly observ­ing her as She mixed and stirred and tast­ed with zeal/​She salt­ed and pep­pered and spiced the meal.” As the book’s set­ting shifts from out­side to inside, the cats take on a dif­fer­ent role. In the mar­ket they were humor­ous acces­sories to the action, but now they pose a prob­lem. Teplow’s care­ful­ly com­posed fam­i­ly scene depicts a peace­ful Shab­bat meal threat­ened by chaos, as the cats emit a yowl­ing din,” crawl on chairs, and tug on the table­cloth. Noo­dles are over­turned and wine spills as Bubbe’s metic­u­lous­ly select­ed foods lie in dis­or­der. Even Bubbe is over­whelmed at the sight, but the story’s res­o­lu­tion affirms that flex­i­bil­i­ty is as impor­tant as plan­ning. The final pic­ture has a mys­ti­cal qual­i­ty, with cats who have been calmed by Bubbe’s can­dles sit­ting qui­et­ly like pre­vi­ous­ly excit­ed chil­dren antic­i­pat­ing a spe­cial event. Bubbe’s trip to Carmel Mar­ket was a plea­sure in itself; her Shab­bat can­not be reduced to the per­fect bowl of soup or bou­quet of flow­ers. And a Cat from Carmel Mar­ket is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed and includes a glos­sary of Hebrew and Yid­dish words.

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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