CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 38. . . . June 1, 2018
The Bagel King is a sweet story about the bond between generations, about how the younger generation values traditions as much as the older generations and learns valuable life lessons as the traditions are practised.
Eliís zaida (grandfather) treats his grandson to bagels and cream cheese every Sunday morning. Itís a tradition in the young boyís life that he thinks will go on forever. But when the seemingly-invincible Zaida has an accident (not a big one) and has to rest his tuches (backside), Eli is thrown for a loop. What about their tradition?
Zaidaís accident changes the dynamic in their relationship. Author Andrew Larsen turns his worried protagonist into a healer. Now Eli brings nourishment - chicken soup and library books. It also opens the door for Eli to learn more about his grandfather. Eli discovers Zaida is the bagel-deliveryman for his neighbours, too. All the elderly gentlemen get together to eat their favourite bagels and shmuz every Sunday, a vital part of their social activity. Eli takes on responsibility for them, too, with loving results.
Larsenís story demonstrates the power of modelling positive behaviour and the power of love. Missing is the influence of Eliís parents. Where did Eli get the chicken soup? Did he take the money for the bagels he buys from his allowance or a special fund? Did his parents give it to him? It would a nice addition to the narrative to have supportive parent(s) or to show that the parent(s) are impressed at the maturity Eli suddenly shows.
Sandy Nicholsís soft watercolour paintings, centred on white space in the middle of the page, are humorous and appealing. The readerís eye is drawn to the detail and the comic aspect of the artwork. Particularly cute are the images of Zaida being upended at the bagel shop and Eli, bereft and flattened over the side of the couch by the trauma of Zaidaís fall.
A glossary of Yiddish words used is provided at the beginning of the book, although the explanations are evident through the text and illustrations. Despite the story being set in a Jewish family situation and Yiddish language references, The Bagel King is a universal tale that will appeal to people from all ethnic backgrounds. Think of Something from Nothing, a book author Phoebe Gilman thought would sell a few thousand copies within the Jewish community across Canada. That title is still in print, nearly 30 years later, because of its all-embracing themes that cross cultural divides.
The Bagel King will be a welcome addition to a school or classroom library and can be used in a unit on families, on helping and on community. It will also be a welcomed read-aloud in a family setting.
Harriet Zaidman is a reviewer, a freelance writer and a former teacher-librarian. In Winnipeg, MB, she bakes bagels and smears them with cream cheese, too.