cover image Raisel's Riddle

Raisel's Riddle

Erica Silverman. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-36168-6

Starring a Jewish orphan in a long-ago Polish village, this colorful, expertly structured variation on Cinderella offers many things: an independent-minded heroine plus a hero attracted by wisdom and virtue; a fairy-tale patina plus old-world ambiance; and a tie-in to Purim that grounds the story without limiting its appeal. Raisel is not immediately recognizable as a Cinderella type. Raised by her grandfather, a poor but devout scholar, she has studied right alongside him. When he dies, she finds work in a faraway village as the helper to a rabbi's cook, a jealous and harsh woman who could rival any evil stepmother. Silverman (Don't Fidget a Feather) maintains impeccable pacing, characterization and once-upon-a-time diction as Raisel catches the eye of the rabbi's learned son, and, through an act of kindness, earns three wishes on Purim. Enter a costume and magical transportation, and the Cinderella parallel pops out, to surprise and delight young readers. Raisel uses her wishes wisely and wins the love of the rabbi's son; unlike Cinderella, this maiden sets a test for her beloved, and it brings the story full-circle to its flavorful beginnings. Gaber (Bit by Bit) underscores the text's emphasis on the characters' inner resources. Her paintings find the warmth in Raisel's companionship with her grandfather, despite the modest surroundings, and they pay more attention to Raisel as a scullery maid than to her appearance in the magical costume. A splendid story, intelligently served. Ages 5-8. (Mar.)