In this sequel to Once Upon an Apple Cake, author Elana Rubinstein reintroduces us to Saralee Siegel, a charming protagonist with an interesting and unusual talent — Saralee’s super-sensitive nose can isolate every ingredient in any recipe, and she can duplicate the recipe for Siegel House, the kosher restaurant owned and run by her family. Saralee not only has olfactory talent but is also highly competitive and will work long and hard to ensure the success of the family business.
The holiday of Sukkot is approaching and Saralee and her Zaidy are brainstorming: what new recipe can they concoct for the holiday meals in the restaurant’s sukkah? It needs to be a recipe that will wow the customers. It needs to be unforgettable, spectacular, and delicious beyond description. This dish needs to be the best ever served. One evening, Saralee notices the beautiful stars twinkling above. They seem to have a radiant, wonderful fragrance. This inspires her to invent a recipe that is both unusual and magical — starlight soup. The soup is so magical that it tastes to each person who sips it exactly like that person’s very favorite food. With starlight soup on the menu, how can Siegel House go wrong?
Saralee’s friend, Harold, is also from a restaurant-owning family. Their restaurant, Perfection on a Platter, is a rival to Siegel House. Perfection on a Platter also hopes to attract the town’s customers this Sukkot. Harold suggests that the two families join forces and cooperate, but Saralee is so sure that her magical starlight soup will beat any other recipe offered that she refuses to cooperate. She is certain that starlight soup will shine. What Saralee doesn’t realize, though, is that you can’t always trust magic. Unlike friendship, magic is not reliable. Unlike friendship, magic may not come through when needed. Saralee learns that relying on friendship and cooperation is safer and better than relying on any magical soup. Friendship may be the true magic; it persists over time.
An amusing middle grade chapter book with likeable characters and an accessible format, Starlight Soup delivers a clear message about friendship, trust, Jewish tradition, and sensitivity to those who share one’s world. In short, Starlight Soup sparkles.
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.