Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Review: The Bagel King by Andrew Larsen

Every Sunday morning, no matter the weather, Eli could count on Zaida to bring bagels from Merv's Bakery. Eli loved the time they spent together enjoying their favorite treats. “Warm. Chewy. Salty,” Eli thought. “Bagels were the best thing about Sunday.” But one Sunday, Zaida didn't come. He had fallen at Merv's and “hurt his tuches,” and the doctor said Zaida had to rest at home for two whole weeks. This meant Eli had no Sunday morning bagels. And neither did Zaida's friends, who had been receiving their own weekly deliveries from Zaida. Will they all go hungry for bagels on Sunday? Or is there something Eli can do? Award-winning author Andrew Larsen's picture book story offers a gently humorous take on the special bond between a boy and his grandfather and the simple ritual that looms so large in their lives. It also highlights a terrific character education lesson about how a young child can take responsibility and, with a little initiative, help a family member in need. With a blend of retro and contemporary styles, Sandy Nichols's softly colored illustrations cleverly convey the story's timelessness and capture Eli's diverse neighborhood. This book will spark wonderful discussions about family traditions and community. A mini glossary and pronunciation guide for the Yiddish words that are sprinkled throughout the story (like mensch and oy) provides an opportunity to learn about the many words we use in English that come from other languages, and to explore the connections between culture and language.
This book put a smile on my face. I loved the relationship between Eli and his zaida. It's a beautiful thing to see how close they are. I also liked that some Yiddish words were used and there's a glossary at the start of the book for those of us who aren't familiar with them. It's a great way to introduce parts of Jewish culture to my son.

Another thing I loved were the food descriptions. Eli and his grandfather bond over bagels, so most of the food described are bagels, but chicken soup and pickles were also mentioned.

It's a relatively long story text-wise, so while it's still a nice read for smaller kids, I think it works best for kids 5-8 years old. The text distribution has some pages with longer paragraphs and some pages with short sentences, which is a good thing since you can rest a little bit in between the pages with longer text.

While I'm not a huge fan of the font (Calisto) used -- I gravitate towards sans serif fonts -- I really, really liked the illustration style used. Some drawings had detailed backgrounds, others just sort of focused on the characters and their immediate vicinity, but in every single one, it felt like the amount of detail included was the perfect choice. The illustrations were rendered in acrylic paint, and the shading and color choices were A++ for me.
When I showed him the cover of the book, he immediately said it was him and his grandfather. When I turned to the first page, his immediate reaction to seeing the bagel was to say "A donut!" Donuts are much more common than bagels here, and I don't think he's encountered one yet, but when I told him it was a bagel, he accepted it without too much of a fuss. I really should consider buying him a bagel and a donut so we can compare and contrast them.

Anyway, during the scene wherein Zaida's friends mentioned what kind of bagels they usually ate, my son turned to me and told me he was hungry. To be honest, I was feeling a little hungry too. That's a compliment to this book considering both of us had just finished eating lunch when we read this. If you're reading this, I suggest you have some food ready. Bagels are a good choice so you can get the full experience of reading the book, but chicken soup or pickles work too.

His attention started to wander around halfway through the book, but he did start getting into it again at around the 3/4th mark. I think that's partly because he's just started getting accustomed to longer books.

"Every Sunday morning your zaida gets me a sesame seed bagel with smoked salmon," explained Mr. Rubin.
"He gets me a plain bagel with cream cheese," said Mr. Wolf.
"And a poppy seed bagel with pickled herring for me," said Mr. Goldstick. 


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