Challah vs. Matza: New book for Passover children will enjoy

The duel between leavened and unleavened bread is the plot of a delightful story for children in which good triumphs over evil and the Seder takes place after all.

Rochel Sylvetsky

OpEds Matza factory
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]Yonatan Zindel Flash 90

Doesn't everyone know that on the days preceding the Passover holiday, challah (Sabbath bread) crumbs are household enemy number one?

Well, in a charming just-published short children's book "Challah vs. Matza" written by Melissa Berg, author of "The Challah that Took over the House," and colorfully illustrated by Sheila Alejandro (Eclectic Ivri Press),  Challah Boy is not taking the pre-Passover cleaning – that literally sweeps him away into the trash can - lying down. 

Challah Boy is the school bully and he is out to spread his crumbs around and prevent a kosher Passover from taking place. When challenged by the intrepid Matza Boy, he does end up lying down, knocked out in the boxing ring by his unleavened opponent who narrowly avoids being crumbled into matza meal himself.

The adorable book is filled with Passover connections, not thrown at the young reader or listener with a heavy hand, but subtly woven into the story line. The idea of keeping the afikomen hidden so Passover vacation never ends is an original one (for some reason, never tried…), while phrases such as seeing "as  many stars as in the night sky at Sinai," gaining strength from King David and the remembrance of the flight from Pharaoh leave room for parents to elaborate if they wish to do so.

The book also appeals to a child's sense of humor. Challah Boy yells "crumble" as he enters the ring, while Matza Boy tells him he "rises too fast," for example. 

There are unspoken messages here about the strong and the weak, bullies getting their come-uppance, brains vs. brawn, selfishness  as opposed to willingness to pitch in, and the importance of dedication to Jewish tradition, symbolized by the hero, Matza Boy.

The book easily passed the acid test of a young granddaughter and her cousin, a grandson of almost the same age, both of whom, when asked whether they enjoyed my reading it to them, answered with a resounding yes.

But part of the suspense buildup is the round by round boxing match between the two protagonists, and that almost caused a gender incident in my family:

Since I was not just reading but trying to see what the book's intended audience thinks about it, I gingerly asked if it had taught them something. All went well as they talked about the way Matza Boy didn't give up and even about how children who are just learning about Passover would gain information, until my grandson said that the book is more suited to boys because of the detailed boxing match.  At that point, my granddaughter froze him with a glance worthy of the evil eye and said icily that she could probably beat him in any match.  Talk about raising a home grown challah boy and matza girl – or is it challah girl and matza boy? 

I found the book delightful to read to the childiren and am sure you will as well. Perhaps you might even get around to the symbolism of puffed up leavened bread and the simplicity of its contra, the unleavened bread, as expounded by our Sages, about what discarding leavening can mean on a personal level, and how the fight between the two demands the courage and perseverance that have characterized the Jewish people since the Exodus from Egypt turned them into a nation. Who knows what one short book can lead to, when talked about with a loving parent or grandparent?