Reviews for Private Joel and the Sewell Mountain Seder

Booklist Reviews 2008 April #1
Camped in West Virginia's Sewell Mountains in the spring of 1862, Union Army Private J. A. Joel is homesick and bored. With permission from his commander, he organizes a Passover seder for the 21 Jewish soldiers serving in Ohio's 23rd Regiment. Noting that Passover's celebration of freedom aligns well with the struggle to end slavery, Joel also includes three freed African American members of the regiment in the celebration. Basing her book on a true story, Fireside details the preparations and inevitable substitutions the war necessitated: cider replaces wine; carrot tops stand in for parsley; and a brick symbolizes charoset. Costello's impressionistic artwork seems well suited to this nostalgic story. Although respectful in tone, the illustrations also pick up on occasional humor, as when hungry soldiers swallow too much bitter herb and chase it down with very potent cider. A good choice for the holiday shelf or Judaica collections. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

School Library Journal Reviews 2008 June

Gr 2-5-- This Civil War story about Private J.A. Joel and 20 other Jewish soldiers in the 23rd Ohio Regiment is based on an article written by Joel and published in the Jewish Messenger in 1866. The third-person narration is presented in eight short, easy-to-read chapters. Bored and homesick while guarding a railroad line in West Virginia, the soldiers secure their commander's permission to commemorate Passover. They pay a sutler (traveling merchant) to ship matzah to them and obtain ingredients for the traditional meal. They find an egg for the Seder plate and use carrottops in place of parsley, a brick for charoset , a weed for bitter herbs, and hard cider for wine. Seated around a white-clothed table, they sing the Four Questions, tell the Passover story, and join together in song. Fireside's concluding note discusses her decision "to include some former slaves to share in this celebration." Matzah ball soup is placed on the menu, providing a humorous subplot and a connection to contemporary readers. Costello's vibrant paintings blend realistic and abstract styles, filling the spreads with color. Readers will need some background on the Civil War and Passover to navigate this story, making this book most useful in collections that support Jewish studies.--Laura Scott, Farmington Community Library, MI

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