The Secret Seder

Doreen Rap­pa­port; Emi­ly McCul­ly, illus.
  • Review
By – August 6, 2012

Young Jacques and his par­ents pass as Catholics in their French vil­lage dur­ing World War II in order to hide their iden­ti­ty as Jews. Despite the dan­ger, father and son join a group of men on a near­by moun­tain­top to hold a Seder for Passover. The table is near­ly bare and the atmos­phere is any­thing but joy­ful, but the men find solace in the observance. 

Like The Cats in Krasin­s­ki Square by Karen Hesse (Scholas­tic, 2003), this is a Holo­caust era slice of life, a sto­ry of resis­tance and ulti­mate­ly of hope. How­ev­er, it shares with Cats the require­ment that the read­er come to the book already under­stand­ing the his­tor­i­cal con­text. An end­note gives a very broad overview, but it is not suf­fi­cient for read­ers whol­ly unfa­mil­iar with the Holo­caust. In addi­tion, this book requires read­ers to be famil­iar with Passover obser­vance so that they will see the dif­fer­ence between this secret Seder and a nor­mal Seder. McCully’s paint­ings are beau­ti­ful and the faces are expres­sive. The dark qual­i­ty of the paint­ings befits the mood of the sto­ry. How­ev­er, the illus­tra­tions are some­what sta­t­ic, as so many of them depict the same group of men hud­dling around a bare table. While the sto­ry is well-writ­ten and well-illus­trat­ed, its use may be lim­it­ed. It is not a Passover sto­ry and it is not a gen­er­al Holo­caust sto­ry. It is a very spe­cif­ic sto­ry of Jew­ish resis­tance. It would work well to flesh out a les­son on the top­ic of resis­tance or of Jews in hid­ing dur­ing the war, although its pic­ture book for­mat may reduce its appeal to those read­ers old enough to appre­ci­ate the sub­ject mat­ter. For ages 9 – 14.

Hei­di Estrin is librar­i­an for the Feld­man Chil­dren’s Library at Con­gre­ga­tion B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL. She is a past chair of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries.

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