This holiday story may secretly be a cookbook.
Most of the book doubles as a recipe for challah bread for the Jewish New Year: mix together flour, eggs, and other ingredients. Knead the dough and punch it and let it rise. The quantities, however, are a little odd: “thousands of eggs, and a shovelful of salt.” This is a tall tale, and Big Sam (short for Samson), the title character, is a white Jewish giant. The problem is, for most of the length of the book, the story feels more like a recipe than a tall tale. It’s endearing to see Big Sam use the Grand Canyon as a mixing bowl and bake the bread inside Mount Saint Helens, but the first half of the book doesn’t have a whole lot of conflict—just baking. The drama really starts near the very end, when Sam must clean up the mess he’s made. A pair of eagles begins to scream at him: “You dropped a mountaintop on our forest. You knocked down our trees.” Starr’s paintings of Sam, as he plants new trees and wildflowers, are warm and inviting, and the environmental message is touching, if not subtle. Jewish readers may be grateful for a new, imaginative take on the holiday, but they might also wish it were a bit less repetitive.
This tall tale isn’t quite tall enough. (readers’ guide) (Picture book. 3-8)