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 Tablet, The Forward, The Horn Book, and other publications, and writes about children’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures.