The Bagel King

Andrew Larsen; Sandy Nichols, illus.
  • Review
By – October 1, 2018

Ever since Eli can remem­ber, his Zai­da (grand­fa­ther) has deliv­ered Sun­day morn­ing bagels to his friends and grand­son from Merv’s Bak­ery, a won­der­ful empo­ri­um stocked with bagels, pick­les, and her­ring. After Zai­da hurts his tuch­es slip­ping on the floor and needs to take leave from his bagel duties, Eli takes over, rec­i­p­ro­cat­ing the love his grand­fa­ther has shown him.

While this sto­ry is not about loss, it does allude to the inevitable weak­ness of old age through a non-trau­mat­ic plot. Eli’s Zai­da is injured and dis­abled, but only tem­porar­i­ly. We also meet Zaida’s friends — Mr. Rubin, Mr. Wolf, and Mr. Gold­stick. The three gen­tle­men are real­is­tic, but not fright­en­ing, rep­re­sen­ta­tions of frailty. Each man uses a dif­fer­ent type of cane or walk­er; Mr. Goldstick’s is yel­low-gold, in a kind of visu­al pun.

Illus­tra­tor Sandy Nichols makes oth­er delight­ful uses of col­or: Zaida’s char­treuse over­coat match­es the green shade of the pick­les at Merv’s, as well as the kitchen chairs where he and Eli eat their break­fast. Eli’s blue shirt is the same col­or as the donut pil­low that the doc­tor pre­scribes for Zaida’s injured tuch­es, as well as Mr. Goldstick’s plaid shirt and Zaida’s bathrobe. Chil­dren will rec­og­nize and enjoy this rep­e­ti­tion as the sto­ry pro­gress­es. They will also relate to Eli’s care­ful­ly com­posed, if mis­spelled, list of items to buy at Merv’s when he decides to take on Zaida’s job. 

In the final illus­tra­tion, Zai­da and Eli are enjoy­ing their bagels smeared with cream cheese. Eli lifts his bagel with two small hands, while Zai­da eats his with one hand, rest­ing his oth­er, beau­ti­ful­ly gnarled one on the table. Chil­dren read­ing” this pic­ture learn an unob­tru­sive mes­sage about the dif­fer­ences and con­ti­nu­ities between generations.

The book includes a short Yid­dish glos­sary at the begin­ning, intro­duc­ing the story’s unapolo­get­i­cal­ly Jew­ish setting. 

Rec­om­mend­ed for read­ers ages 3 to 7, but also for par­ents and grand­par­ents who have ever bond­ed with their kids over a bagel.

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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