Meet the Latkes

  • Review
By – March 18, 2019

Besides Passover and matzah, there may not be a Jew­ish hol­i­day and food more close­ly asso­ci­at­ed than Hanukkah and latkes. Unlike the bread of afflic­tion, these tra­di­tion­al pota­to pan­cakes are a culi­nary joy. Yet they, too, have a les­son to teach us — at least that is the premise of Alan Silberberg’s Meet the Latkes.

In Meet the Latkes, Lucy Latke bonds with her grand­pa as he recounts the holiday’s sto­ry; even her sullen teenage broth­er Lex comes out of his room to hear the inspir­ing tale. For kids who like sil­ly puns and bright, car­toon­ish images, the book is a blast. Adults, too, can enjoy the ride as a Juda Mega-Bee and his band emerge from a Tro­jan-horse-like drei­del on wheels to fight alien pota­toes from out­er space.

Meet the Latkes is a not a book for skep­tics, and it does con­tain incon­sis­ten­cies: the Latke fam­i­ly and the bad guys oppress­ing the Jews are all pota­toes, while the heroes are bees. The Latkes’ pet dog, Apple­sauce, looks like he may be a condi­ment, or maybe just a dif­fer­ent­ly shaped spud. In the book’s ver­sion of the Hanukkah sto­ry, the mirac­u­lous ves­sel of oil has been replaced by a con­tain­er of honey.

How­ev­er, young chil­dren will be hap­py to accept Grandpa’s ver­sion of the hol­i­day sto­ry as they fol­low the blocks of text and speech bal­loons con­tain­ing oth­er char­ac­ters’ com­ments. The illus­tra­tions com­bine dif­fer­ent styles: tra­di­tion­al imagery of glow­ing meno­rahs and spin­ning drei­dels estab­lish a warm, famil­iar home, but wild action and men­ac­ing vil­lains pro­vide plen­ty of excite­ment. The Mega-Bees … sliced and whipped and mashed those tater tyrants into tat­ters,” Grand­pa intones, and the accom­pa­ny­ing pic­tures show the heroes — some with curly black beards, oth­ers wear­ing glass­es, and all with kip­pot—bring­ing vic­to­ry to the embat­tled Jews. The end­pa­pers fea­ture fam­i­ly pho­tos ren­dered in blue and white of adorable baby Latkes, Latke fam­i­ly din­ners, and, in a moment of cul­tur­al blend­ing, Latkes trick-or-treat­ing in pump­kin cos­tumes. There is even a pic­ture of Mama and Papa Latke get­ting mar­ried under the chup­pah, or wed­ding canopy.

This book enter­tains and teach­es chil­dren through a spe­cif­ic type of zany humor. An addi­tion­al sec­tion, The Sto­ry of Chanukah (or Hanukkah!),” offers his­tor­i­cal back­ground and vocab­u­lary. One impor­tant cor­rec­tion is nec­es­sary, though: Anti­ochus was not a Syr­i­an ruler, as the book says, but a Greek ruler of the Hel­lenis­tic king­dom which includ­ed parts of the Mid­dle East. For those who pre­fer Sephardic cus­toms, there is a def­i­n­i­tion of suf­ganiy­ot (jel­ly dough­nuts), which Mama and Papa Latke actu­al­ly pre­pare for their fam­i­ly near the begin­ning of the book.

Meet the Latkes is rec­om­mend­ed for chil­dren ages 4 to 7, and for adults who appre­ci­ate a child­like sense of humor.

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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