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Book Review: Secret Seder
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2005 blog


Jewish Children's Literature
Secret Seder
to come to light
books file, April 17, 2005

Doreen Rappaport, The Secret Seder, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Hyperion Books for Children, New York: 2005,  no paging, for ages 5-9, $16.99

Reviewed by Donald H. Harrison

Doreen Rappaport, whose collection of stories about famous Jewish Americans (The Promised Land) was favorably reviewed by this website, has delivered another superb story for children.  This time, it is a didactic tale of a Jewish boy posing as a Catholic in nazi-occupied France who  with his father slips away from their town to attend a Passover seder in a secluded mountain cabin.

Rappaport deftly conveys how scary, yet meaningful, young Jacques' religious adventure with his father is—helping today's elementary school aged children to sense the Holocaust without overwhelming them with too much detail.  At the same time, Rappaport skillfully invokes the Passover story itself, drawing appropriate analogies between the slavery of the Jews under Pharaoh and the terror under Hitler—and how, in each instance, Jews could draw upon God and upon their own  inner resources.

Young Jacques surprises his father during the seder by being able to chant The Four Questions, which his mother secretly has taught him.  And when a man at the seder table grows faint from the tension of their possible discovery, Jacques helps him recover by feeding him the afikomen that he had been keeping in his pocket for ransom.

As good as this story is, it is made even better by Emily Arnold McCully's realistic illustrations that capture the emotional pain and fright of those living under the constant threat of exposure and death, as well as the joy the participants of the seder felt at being able to carry out their ancient religious obligations notwithstanding.

It is the kind of story, I believe, that will seep into children's consciousness and inspire them to emulate the brave Jacques and his father.