The Passover Cowboy

Bar­bara Goldin Dia­mond, Illus­trat­ed by Gina Capaldi
  • Review
By – March 23, 2017

This charm­ing pic­ture book tack­les the hot top­ic of immi­gra­tion; Jew­ish immi­gra­tion, not now, but then, not in the Unit­ed States, but in Argenti­na. It is a warm sto­ry of a bud­ding friend­ship set against the scenery of a new land and inside a close-knit fam­i­ly and will enter­tain and teach pic­ture book read­ers. Action and humor under­gird the tale so that read­ers learn with­out didac­tic overtones. 

Jacob and his fam­i­ly have come from their crowd­ed vil­lage in the Russ­ian old coun­try to the wide open spaces of the Argen­tine plains. Loose cloth­ing makes tight out­fits pass€; rid­ing horse­back rules over shoes made for walk­ing. Hol­i­days that every­one shared and val­ued are odd­i­ties to Jacob’s new coun­try­men. He loves Passover; he miss­es his friends, but he is will­ing to cel­e­brate the Seder with his new pal, Ben­i­to. He mix­es thoughts of yum­my tra­di­tion­al food and annu­al prayers with dreams of his own las­so which papa says will come in handy if a stray calf enters when they open the door for Eli­jah. Through argu­ments with his sis­ter as they pre­pare for the hol­i­day the ten­sion builds: will Ben­i­to come? When he does, he dis­rupts the evening by bring­ing chick­ens that burst into the house, caus­ing hav­oc. All is set right. As the Seder resumes Ben­i­to notes the Argen­tine strug­gle for free­dom as the fam­i­ly cel­e­brates free­dom from Pharaoh. Assim­i­la­tion aris­es when the par­ents give their chil­dren new cloth­ing typ­i­cal in their new land and Jacob does the Four Ques­tions in Hebrew and Span­ish. An inter­est­ing end note reveals the back his­to­ry is the 1880s Argen­tine colonies estab­lished for Russ­ian Jews by Baron de Hirsch. Love­ly art in mut­ed col­ors par­al­lels the text and under­lines the mes­sage of the sto­ry geared to read­ers ages 5 – 7.

Ellen G. Cole, the librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

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