October 14, 2010
Review of Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher, written by Laurel Snyder, Random House, $15.99, hardcover, 2010.
One Friday afternoon at the bus stop, a curious pig named Baxter strikes up a conversation and in the process is enticed by all the joys of Shabbat dinner—dancing candles, singing, delicious food, and people you love. He's instantly enthralled and determined to become a part of it. Only one thing stands in his way—Baxter isn't kosher. So how can he ever be part of Shabbat dinner?
This, of course, sparks a comedy of errors—after all, Baxter doesn't want to be eaten at Shabbat dinner. But being fuzzy on the details, he's determined to become kosher anyway. Since you are what you eat, first he tries eating his way through a batch of kosher groceries (pickles! raisin challah!). But the pickles just make him smell funny, and the challah gives him a stomachache. Then he finds out cows are kosher, so next he practices his mooing and grazing.
Eventually a kind soul in the form of a rabbi clears things up for poor, misguided Baxter—he doesn't need to be kosher. Everyone is welcome at Shabbat dinner. And Baxter finally gets his wish.
Snyder has chosen a charming entry into this story about acceptance and hospitality. In fact, the entire concept of a pig wanting to be kosher gives a potentially message-heavy story a great dose of humor and whimsy. Plus, it's accessible. Even people who know very little about Judaism will find some familiarity in this one fact about what Jews can and cannot eat.
But this book definitely isn't a lesson on how to keep kosher. It's really all about inclusivity and the warm traditions of religious life that we might tend to lose sight of in our busy lives. Snyder does a beautiful job of reminding readers why Shabbat dinner—and perhaps family meals on the whole—are a wonderful occasion.
None of that would work though without Baxter himself. His earnestness and curiosity will certainly appeal to parents, who might wish to encourage their own children in these ways. And the funny scenes of his "pigging out" (so to speak) on silly foods (when aren't pickles funny?) will make the kids giggle.
Obviously, Baxter is never going to be kosher. And the point is that he doesn't have to be. The story serves its purpose well, and the take-away is clear: you don't have to be Jewish to be a part of family traditions. And for anyone who is trying to explain religious differences to a child, whether because of a particular family set-up or wanting to invite new friends over for Shabbat, this book is a must-have for the family library.