Meet the Matzah

  • Review
By – March 15, 2021

Fans of Alan Silberberg’s pre­vi­ous pic­ture book, Meet the Latkes, will be glad to learn that there is more than one Jew­ish food in his reper­toire. While unleav­ened bread may not seem as inher­ent­ly fun­ny as deli­cious pota­to pan­cakes, read­ers of his lat­est work, Meet the Matzah, will sure­ly be con­vinced that there’s plen­ty of humor to be had with Passover food. Sand­wich friends such as Alfie Koman and Chal­lah Looy­ah are class­mates under the strict super­vi­sion of Mrs. Crust. Prompt­ed by their teacher to explain their favorite hol­i­days, they respond with imag­i­na­tive tales about nasty bul­lies, coura­geous super­heroes, and an alter­na­tive list of mod­ern plagues. The child-friend­ly humor works well to engage young read­ers and pro­vide basic infor­ma­tion about Passover.

Silberberg’s pic­tures are cel­e­bra­to­ry and exag­ger­at­ed for comedic effect. Each char­ac­ter is a walk­ing, talk­ing slice of bread, whose speech appears both in lines of text and in car­toon bub­bles filled with large font and expla­na­tion points. Loaf, the scowl­ing sour­dough, is the per­fect foil to the nat­u­ral­ly shy Alfie Koman, who hides between two books on a shelf. The twins Bun and Bun are two iced pas­tries who call out Loaf for his mean­ness. Mrs. Crust, in her pur­ple glass­es and green heels, is the adult in the room, set­ting lim­its and encour­ag­ing the shy Alfie to speak up and teach his friends — some of whom are not Jew­ish — what Passover means to him.

Soon, the class is entranced by Alfie’s excit­ing tale, but Loaf obnox­ious­ly attempts to con­trol the per­for­mance, forc­ing Alfie to cor­rect him, and cre­at­ing an inven­tive dia­logue between false­ness and truth. Pharoach, the Hebrews’ six-legged oppres­sor, sets Burnie Toast and Cor­nelius Tor­tilla on the edge of their seats. A con­tem­po­rary list of ten plagues, pro­vid­ed by Loaf, includes No Wi-Fi” and Broc­coli for Dessert.” After a while, Alfie final­ly asserts him­self and con­tra­dicts this silli­ness. Moses becomes a super­hero lead­ing tra­di­tion­al­ly depict­ed peo­ple, and Alfie’s lan­guage returns his audi­ence to Passover’s true sto­ry of enslave­ment and lib­er­a­tion: The Red Sea part­ed and the Hebrew peo­ple crossed with­out harm.”

Unlike Pharaoh, who nev­er learns his les­son, Loaf comes to under­stand his own lim­i­ta­tions, and even apol­o­gizes. Every­one is invit­ed to Alfie’s seder, where slices of bread, both leav­ened and unleav­ened, recline on cush­ions and wear kip­pot atop their square heads. Silberberg’s solu­tion to allow­ing chametz at a seder is inge­nious and unortho­dox, two adjec­tives which also describe his approach to edu­cat­ing chil­dren about Jew­ish hol­i­days. When the class enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly decides that the Passover sto­ry is epic,” Alfie responds with pride, and true.” Read­ers young and old will like­ly add, and fun­ny,” enjoy­ing the humor of Meet the Matzah, which nev­er dimin­ish­es the book’s dual mes­sage of free­dom and friendship.

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.

Discussion Questions