Resonant with the atmosphere of old Jerusalem — traces of which can still be found in the modern city — this heart-warming tale was inspired by the history of the venerable Angel Bakery, a well-known Jerusalem institution, originally established in 1927. Its proprietors, their remarkable delivery horse, and the city, itself, are all the heroes of this gently humorous and emotion-laden story which reads like a folk tale. This is a story in which you can almost hear the sounds of the city, see its legendary sights, and inhale the aroma of freshly baked bread.
Esther and Ezra, the bakery’s owners, rose early every Friday morning to mix, knead, and bake challah dough so their customers could properly observe Shabbat. Jacob, their delivery boy, along with Soosie their horse, rode through town each week selling the freshly baked challah to the appreciative residents of the city. After the customers at each stop deposited their payments into the tin bank Soosie carried, the boy and the horse moved on, making sure everyone in town had challah for their Shabbat meals.
One day, Jacob became ill and couldn’t deliver the week’s challah. Esther and Ezra were at a loss: how could the freshly baked loaves be distributed on time? Soosie, though, was positively raring to go and was familiar with her route. So Esther and Ezra loaded Soosie’s wagon with fresh challot, the tin bank, and a note explaining that Jacob was unwell. Then Soosie set out along her usual path. Soosie stopped at all the regular stations, the customers read the note, then each took their loaves and deposited their coins. Ezra and Esther worried about their dear horse, hoping she hadn’t broken a leg or met with other misfortune but reliable Soosie knew her job. After several hours she returned with the tin bank filled with coins. Soosie deserved her long rest that Shabbat.
Lehman-Wilzig’s lovely story, Halberstadt’s evocative, richly colored art, and the atmosphere of Jerusalem, itself, combine to teach young readers about responsibility, honesty, and loving animal-care. It’s a beautifully rendered simple story on the surface but it’s a complex one, too, redolent of caring relationships between animals and people and filled with a sense of Shabbat peace.
An author’s note tells the history of Angel Bakery, explains the blessing over the Shabbat challah, provides some biblical background for the Jewish value of kindness to animals, and presents a history of Jerusalem’s population. She also clues the reader in as to why she chose the name Soosie for her wonderful main character; Soos is the Hebrew word for horse.
This highly recommended story would make a wonderful read-aloud and is an excellent resource for educators, parents, animal lovers, challah connoisseurs, and those — like Soosie — who love to wander the streets of Jerusalem.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.