The $150,000 Rugelach

Alli­son and Wayne Marks, Ariel Landy (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – October 18, 2021

Jack Fine­man is the best bak­er at the Sieber­ling school in Ard­more, Ohio. Despite his family’s doubts, Jack dreams of the day he will be old enough to enter the Bak­er­stown Bonan­za, a pas­try-chef con­test spon­sored by the Farnsworth Bak­ing Sup­ply Com­pa­ny, Ardmore’s biggest employ­er. He envi­sions stun­ning his idol, Phineas Farnsworth III, the company’s own­er, with an inven­tive dessert. Mean­while, Jack’s new class­mate, Jil­lian Mer­mel­stein, has a bak­ing his­to­ry of her own. After the death of her lov­ing, pas­sion­ate pas­try chef moth­er, she recent­ly moved from Seat­tle to Ard­more, where she lives with her over­worked father and spir­it­ed Grand­ma Rita. When Jil­lian brings a plate of home­made choco­late rugelach to the sixth-grade class hol­i­day par­ty, Jack is shocked. The cook­ies are all any­one can talk about. He won­ders: who could have the chutz­pah to out­shine his art­ful­ly-pre­sent­ed basil but­ter­scotch brown­ies arranged in the shape of a Star of David? Even worse, the rugelach is the best he’s ever eaten.

Filled with grief and pre­oc­cu­pied with mem­o­ries of her past, atten­tion is the last thing Jil­lian wants. But when Farnsworth announces a com­pe­ti­tion for Ardmore’s mid­dle school bak­ers, Jack and Jil­lian are select­ed to team up to rep­re­sent Sieber­ling. Jack is enticed by the oppor­tu­ni­ty for fame and for their win­ning dessert to appear on the cov­er of the Bonan­za cook­book, while Jil­lian hopes half of the $150,000 prize will help solve her family’s finan­cial trou­bles – – even though her reluc­tance to pub­li­cize her family’s sto­ry and fears of betray­ing her mother’s lega­cy cause her to fudge the truth on her con­test appli­ca­tion. Despite dif­fer­ing styles and clash­ing ideas, Jil­lian and Jack mix, stir, and bake their way into an effi­cient rap­port. With spe­cial ingre­di­ents, and a trusty wood­en spoon, Jil­lian and Jack set their sights on the prize. But things are not what they seem. When the con­test is under­way, the young bak­ers dis­cov­er some unset­tling sur­pris­es about the com­pe­ti­tion, unex­pect­ed fam­i­ly secrets, and hid­den truths, all of which they encounter as they bake their way to becom­ing Bak­er­stown Bonan­za winners.

The $150,000 Rugelach is filled with humor­ous details and char­ac­ters who are clever even as they deal with deep, heart­felt emo­tions. Jillian’s reflec­tions about her mom’s wis­dom are par­tic­u­lar­ly touch­ing. The authors excel at lay­ered depic­tions of the hard­work­ing young pro­tag­o­nists and the adults in their lives, offer­ing an enter­tain­ing jour­ney that cel­e­brates friend­ship, team­work, and con­nec­tions that span generations.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

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