Lesléa Newman, author
Lesléa Newman has written more than seventy books and anthologies, including the groundbreaking picture book Heather Has Two Mommies. She is also the author of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard and Sparkle Boy.
Read more about Lesléa.
Susan Gal holds a BFA from Art Center College of Design and has illustrated several books for children, including Abracadabra, It's Spring! and Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays.
Read more about Susan.
- Winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award
- Winner of the National Jewish Book Award
School Library Journal, starred review
PreS-Gr 1–Simple, lyrical text describes how a contemporary Jewish family celebrates the Passover Seder. Inside, the house is filled with light and laughter as a young boy fills the ceremonial cup of wine for the Prophet Elijah, dips parsley in salt water, breaks the middle matzo, hears the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, and enjoys the holiday meal. Meanwhile, a small stray kitten waits alone in the dark for the moon to rise. When the time comes for the boy to open the door for the Prophet Elijah, the kitten has scampered up the walk and is waiting to be invited inside. The text concludes: “And that’s how Elijah [the kitten] found a home.” The luminous detailed illustrations—done in ink, charcoal, and digital collage—use deep gold, black, and blue tones to beautifully depict the contrast between the loving, festive atmosphere inside the house and the dark, still night outside. Readers will delight in finding the adorable white kitten on each spread and will notice how the kitten’s actions outside mimic the boy’s actions inside. A large, intergenerational and racially diverse family is warmly depicted. An extensive author’s note is appended, providing background information about the history and customs of the Passover holiday along with a listing of some of the traditional rituals of the Passover Seder.
VERDICT: Anybody who has ever opened the door for Elijah during the Passover Seder will relish this charming, magical, and heartwarming story.
Passover nights are different, happily so for a boy and a kitten.
It’s a Seder night, and a boy and his large family welcome guests to the festive holiday celebration. There are many rituals in the evening, including filling a cup of wine for the prophet Elisha, but his favorite is opening the door to welcome Elijah in. Writing in contrasting couplets, Newman relates the many elements of the holiday as “inside” activities. There are also “outside” goings-on. A fluffy white cat in the yard does feline things that seem to mimic what the family and their guests are doing except in one respect. The family enjoys plenty of good food while the kitten “swishe[s] his skinny tail.” Finally it is time to hold open the door, and who should be standing there but that irresistibly appealing fluffy white kitten. Boy and kitten, to be named Elijah of course, embrace as the others look on in joy. Gal’s softly smudged illustrations, rendered in ink, charcoal, and digital collage, warmly reflect the text’s contrasts, with bright yellows illuminating the household and iridescent blues bathing the outdoor scenes. The family and friends are racially diverse, with both black- and white-presenting group members. The boy himself presents white; the men wear kippot.
While not the traditional holiday outcome, it should please celebrants and cat lovers all. (author’s note, list of Seder rituals) (Picture book. 4-7)
As night falls, a boy and his family gather together for a traditional Passover Seder. With wide eyes and an infectious smile, the boy shares all of his favorite activities and stories, illustrated in warm, candlelit scenes. Meanwhile, outside in the shadowy moonlight, something lurks. The night is full of contrasts—dark and light, joy and sadness—that build until the boy reaches his most cherished ritual of all: opening the door for Elijah the Prophet.
Shelf Awareness, starred review
Just as Jewish families open their doors for the prophet Elijah, Welcoming Elijah opens the Seder ritual and invites readers into the festivities. This heartwarming tale of a young boy and a tiny, stray kitten plays out entirely during the traditional meal as the story of the Exodus is retold and celebrated. Lesléa Newman's (Gittel's Journey) poetic text alternates between the boy's perspective and that of the feline: "Inside, the boy drank grape juice./ Outside, the kitten lapped at a puddle." Inside, readers are engaged with the customs of a Jewish Seder, like filling Elijah's cup, dipping parsley into salt water and singing (the activities are discussed further in an author's note). Outside, the kitten mewls and swings its "skinny tail." Susan Gal's (Bella's Fall Coat illustrator) atmospheric illustrations reinforce the contrasting viewpoints: the child bathed in light and surrounded by family, the cat alone in the dark. This variance, paired with foreshadowing in the early pages--"Tonight would be different/ from all other nights./ The boy knew this./ The kitten did, too"--develops an intriguingly suspenseful tone. Gal's digital collage, charcoal and ink illustrations switch between hot and cool palettes, creating a sense of emotional warmth. Her superb use of line gives a fluidity to the art as well as a tactile impression of texture--readers will likely want to cuddle the furry white kitten with the silky pink ears. Meanwhile, anticipation builds for the moment the parallel paths of boy and kitten veer to intersect.Together Newman and Gal immerse their audience in the beauty and joy of the Jewish service. This delightful, captivating Passover narrative can be appreciated by readers of any faith.
The Jewish Book Council
Passover arrives in this charming picture book. Author Lesléa Newman writes about selected parts of the Seder, especially the excitement of opening the door for Elijah the Prophet, using repetition and opposites, strong techniques for young readers. The opposites consist of an unnamed boy and a cat; the boy is inside and the cat is outside. The boy belongs, participates in the holiday with extended family, and is warm, cared for, and happy. The cat does not belong; it is lonely, hungry, cold, and sad. As the differences between boy and animal build, the tale chronologically recounts the Seder in a succinct way, designed mainly for readers familiar with Passover and its meaning. The boy and the cat have one thing in common: they are both waiting. While they wait, they know tonight will be different, a key line in Seder liturgy. When it comes time to open the door for Elijah, the boy goes to the door alone. He opens it, finds the cat, and names it Elijah. The cat finds a home. Readers review customs with the story: Elijah’s cup on the table, drinking wine (or grape juice), washing hands, dipping parsley into salt water, breaking the middle matzah, hearing the story of the Exodus, the Passover meal, songs, and finally, the time to open the door.
The book is warm and full of Jewish identity. The illustrations in rich jewel tones are pleasant, calming, and support the text well. The skin tones in the pictures show a nonwhite family, an important inclusive feature. An ending author’s note adds information that does not appear in the story itself. This includes the Israelites’ history in Egypt, God’s choice of Moses, the plagues, the hasty departure, and the importance of freedom. Readers absorb the difference between in and out in more ways than one.
The Horn Book
On Passover, inside his warm and cozy house, a boy waits expectantly for his family’s Seder. Outdoors, a kitten waits alone for the moon to appear. Inside, the Seder begins. The boy fills the Cup of Elijah, a ritual that welcomes the prophet into the home. The child listens to the Passover story and enjoys a traditional meal, while outside the cat listens to whispering leaves and “ate nothing at all.” Readers recognize or learn about nearly all the steps of the Seder while getting to know the roaming feline, its roughly parallel activities shown, split-screen-style, on every spread. The cat’s rambles lead to the boy’s doorstep at the same moment he opens the door for the prophet: “And that’s how Elijah found a home.” Gal’s warmhearted illustrations, in ink, charcoal, and digital collage, show a diverse, loving extended Jewish family. The art is suffused with light, including golden hues, warm browns, and midnight blues along with textured brushstrokes, subtle patterns, dark outlines, and the whitish-gray cat. Passover-themed details in the text (“Tonight would be different from all other nights,” think boy and cat—a nod to the Four Questions), the illustrations (gefilte fish advertised in a market window), and the story’s message—let all who are hungry come and eat—will resonate with readers; for those unfamiliar with the holiday, Newman’s informative and personal appended author’s note provides more detail. Waiting is a feeling with which young Seder-goers will likely be familiar. The protagonist’s wait ends not as he expected, but satisfyingly nonetheless.
The Best Jewish Children's Books of 2020
In Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal, there are two Elijahs (or are there?)—one is the prophet; the other is a lonely, hungry kitten prowling around outside a house during a Seder. Guess how the book ends. If there was ever a doubt that Newman (winner of the Cat Writers’ Association Litter-ary Award, which I did not know existed but am delighted about) is a true cat person, this book sets it to rest. One of her earlier picture books, Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed, was on Tablet’s best books list in 2015, and it’s a toss-up whether Ketzel or Elijah is more adorable. (Fuzzy little all-white Elijah has giant anime eyes and tiny pink ears; sassy black and white Ketzel struts across the keyboard with saucy, ultra-kitty body language. It’s a tie.) Newman, the author of over 70 books for kids and adults (including the groundbreaking Heather Has Two Mommies) and the winner of last year’s Sydney Taylor Award for lifetime achievement, is also a poet, and it shows. The book doesn’t rhyme, but feels like a meditation or a song, with suspense and lovely rhythms. Gal’s art is luminous, its stained-glass colors and golden light highlighting a diverse, loving, and slightly chaotic Seder.
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Page count: 32
11 x 8 1/2