This is the story of an 11-year-old boy, Ben, living in a ghetto in the Rhineland during the Middle Ages. Through his father’s work as a merchant, he meets the benevolent bishop who has invited the Jews to live in a separate, walled area of his town under his protection. Ben comes to know the bishop and becomes his Hebrew teacher. He refuses payment for his efforts, as he feels the experience is reward enough. When the Jews of the town are threatened by a mob of crusaders, the bishop protects them by bribing the mob with gold coins.
While based on historical events, parents and teachers might not feel that bribery is a concept they wish to teach without context. Parents should be advised, therefore, that the book’s ending may necessitate family discussion. Teachers and librarians should be prepared to introduce historical and moral issues, as well.
This book is beautifully illustrated. Each illustration is like a painting, and the author states in her dedication that the faces of Ben and the bishop are modeled after her grandson and her uncle. The story is presented simply, but its vocabulary is advanced for a picture book. Early readers will likely need help with the words.