This Israeli import may set a new record for delayed gratification.
For a little while, the book feels like a story with no ending: In ancient Jerusalem, a tailor is mending a robe for the High Priest. His son, Itamar, notices that the robe is missing a bell on its hem and searches for it all over the city, but he never finds it. That seems like the place where the story has to end. A bell from Biblical times can never be replaced. But the final page of the book introduces a young archaeologist who, in 2011, spots something “gleaming in the dirt in an ancient drainage ditch.” Some readers will be frustrated by the delayed ending. It takes the resolution completely out of Itamar’s hands. But Itamar seems more bemused than distraught. The closing pages of the story show him as a gray-haired man, telling his children about the bell that was “lost and never found.” Philosophical readers may take this as an important lesson: Don’t hold on too tightly to the things you’ve lost. And the illustrations are extraordinary. Abolafia has simplified the characters’ anatomy to a few basic, lovely strokes of the pen, and he’s chosen a remarkable variety of browns to represent the range of people in the Middle East.
Some children will demand a more traditional ending, but readers with a contemplative nature—or at least a sense of humor—will be more than satisfied. (Picture book. 4-9)