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The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman Children's Book Review

Updated on June 19, 2011
The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah book cover
The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah book cover

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman (ISBN 0823419525, Holiday House, 2010) makes a new addition to a varied collection of children's picture books based on the Little Red Hen folktale. Kimmelman's addition to the genre is a light-hearted and entertaining Jewish version of the tale replete with Yiddish phrases, and explanations of the Passover holiday.

If you are looking for a children's book that shares facts and information about Jewish Passover traditions in an accessible and entertaining way, this one does it admirably. I was surprised at how much I learned about the Passover dinner, called the Seder, and the values that encourage Little Red Hen to continue preparing for her Passover dinner, without the help of her lazy and unhelpful friends.

While Little Red makes preparations for her Passover feast, we are introduced to a variety of Yiddish phrases commonly used in everyday English and Passover customs:

  • Setting a place at the table for the Prophet Elijah
  • Making the Matzah in just 18 minutes
  • Cleaning the house from top to bottom

At the conclusion of the story you will find an easy-to-understand section that explains the Passover holiday, and instructions for making your own Matzah. A short gloassary includes Yiddish phrases like chutzpah, mensch, and schlep, and Passover foods. These resources make the book a great holiday resource for early elementary classrooms.

What makes this book such a success however, in my opinion, is the humorous approach to telling the Little Red Hen story. Kimmelman's writing is true to the tale in all ways. The focus remains on the story rather than the cultural lessons that any educator may obviously derive from this delightful little children's book.

The Little Red Hen plans ahead, and so she gets to work long before the Passover celebration and plants her grains of wheat. Surrounded by friends Sheep, Horse and Dog, she is sure she will have all the help she needs. But of course, her faithless friends let her down time and again, so she is is forced to schlep the wheat to the mill on her own, followed by an entourage of cute little chicks.

As in other modern retellings of this folktale, the ending of the story focuses on forgiveness rather than justice, so if you are looking for justice, you should go for the more traditional version of the story by Paul Galdone titled The Little Red Hen Big Book (ISBN 0618836845, Sandpiper).

But Kimmelman's version, on the other hand, doesn't let the faithless friends off the hook quite as quickly as Amy Walrod and Philemon Sturges' version of the story, The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza (click on the link to read my review). First she confronts them about their innapropriate and rude behavior.

"Baa. Neigh. Woof.
"We're famished," they told the Little Red Hen. "What's for dinner?"
"You've got to be kidding!" scolded the Little Red Hen. "What chutzpah!"

But the Little Red Hen remembers the words of the Passover Haggadah, and has a change of heart. 

Besides, the Little Red Hen was a good egg-a mensch.  A mensch forgives."

Illustrations by Paul Meisel

Paul Meisel's ink, watercolor, and pastel illustrations add humorous details to the story. For example, in one scene, the Little Red Hen carries a sack of flour almost exactly her size down a boulder-strewn path that wends its way up a steep hill. Two fallen logs cross the path, signalling the hen's arduous journey from the mill back to the farm.

Meisel fills Little Red's house full of delightful humorous details. Curtains are adorned with a chicken head print, while the finials on the curtain rods feature what appear to be chicken feet. Little Red's brass bed is filled with a bundle of fresh straw, and the dress has chicken-foot shaped knobs. And Little Red hen cleans the large farm-style kitchen table with a feather duster!

During the scene featuring the Seder dinner, the Little Red Hen's brood of chicks sit on a large wooden crate and share dinner in front of tiny, chick-size place settings, all sitting with napkins in their laps.

If You Liked This Book

If you liked this modern retelling of the Little Red Hen, you may want to check out a few more of my favorite poultry tales and other related children's books!

The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza by Amy Walrod and Philemon Sturges is another modern rendition of the Little Red Hen folktale.

Souper Chicken by Mary Jane and Herm Auch is a fairy tale about the power of literacy, and focuses on the near-fatal adventure of one zany chicken and her somewhat ignorant barnyard cousins. This book is full of poultry puns and will be appreciated best by a mid-elementary aged crowd. After you read this, you will want to read the author/illustrator couple's other twisted fairy tales.

The King With Six Friends by Jay Williams is a bit hard to find, but this quest-style fairy tale about friendship and leadership is a must read book. An out-of-work king must find a new kingdom to rule. The friends he makes along the way work together to help him along with their unique abilities.

Children's Books About the Passover Holiday

About the Author

Wannabwestern is the HubPages byline for Carolyn Augustine, a mother and writer who lives near Phoenix, Arizona. A former storytime presenter, and an avid reader, Wannabwestern has published over 50 articles on children's books, library storytimes, and reading here on HubPages.


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