Author: Nina Jaffe
Artist: Louise August
Genre: Jewish / Family / Poland / Fairy Tale / Magic
Year Published: 1998
Year Read: 2016
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Content Rating: Ages 6+ (Child Mistreatment)
Even though there has been like a million retellings of “Cinderella” done already, I do recall one version of the tale that was quite unique as it had the “Cinderella” character running away from home and dancing with the prince of the story in disguise and that version came from a fairy tale called “Cap O’ Rushes.” So, imagine my surprise when I found out that there was a Jewish version of this tale called “The Way Meat Loves Salt” by Nina Jaffe along with illustrations by Louise August and I was pleasantly surprised by this brilliant version of the classic fairy tale!
Many years ago in the country of Poland, there lived a rabbi who had a wife and three daughters. The names of the three daughters were Reyzeleh, the oldest, Khaveleh, the middle daughter and Mireleh, the youngest. One day, the rabbi wanted to know how much each of his daughters loved him and he decided to ask each of them how they felt about him.
Reyzeleh answered, “I love you as much as diamonds.”
Khaveleh answered, “I love you as much as gold and silver.”
And Mireleh answered, “I love you the way meat loves salt.”
When the rabbi heard Mireleh’s answer, he was so enraged that he kicked Mireleh out of his house. Mireleh then wonders through the forest crying when suddenly, an old man dressed in a white robe showed up carrying a tall silver staff in one hand and a wooden stick in the other hand. The old man then tells Mireleh that she should go to the house of Rabbi Yitskhok ben Levi, the renowned scholar of Lublin and that he has a wife and son that could take care of her. When Mireleh goes to the house, the family took her in and let her stay in their attic. One day however, a wedding feast was being held in Cracow and Rabbi Yitskhok’s family decided to go to the wedding feast, but they let Mireleh stay at home. Mireleh wanted to go to the wedding, but she realized that she did not have the proper attire to attend the wedding. So, she used the magic stick that the old man gave her and she was able to make a beautiful dress appear out of thin air! When Mireleh arrived at the wedding, the guests were astonished by her appearance and Rabbi Yitskhok’s son immediately took interest in her and wanted to know everything about her. But, Mireleh kept quiet and did not tell the rabbi’s son anything about herself. As soon as the wedding feast was over, the rabbi’s son wanted to know more about the mysterious girl who came to the wedding and he decided to put some tar and pitch out in the front of his house to wait for the mysterious girl to arrive. When Mireleh came back to the house, she ended up getting one of her shoes stuck in the tar pitch and she had to leave without the other shoe. The rabbi’s son then picked up the shoe and declared that whoever fits the shoe will be his bride.
Will the Rabbi’s son find the woman who fits the shoe?
Read this book to find out!
Nina Jaffe’s writing is beautifully written as she does a brilliant job at retelling this ancient old version of “Cinderella” and incorporating Jewish customs into the story that makes it stand out from other folktales. I loved the way that Nina Jaffe incorporated the Jewish traditions in this story such as the groom stepping on the wine glass during the marriage ceremony as we get to learn more about Jewish culture through this story and how they define the characters. I also loved the fact that this story takes place in Poland since it is rare that I read children’s books that take place in Poland and it gives the story an extremely unique feel. Nina Jaffe did an excellent job at bringing out the theme of true love in this story as Mireleh, the main protagonist, is unfairly thrown out of her own home just because she stated that she loved her father as much as “meat loves salt.” While it takes most of the story for the father to figure out what Mireleh’s statement really meant, it was intriguing to me that Mireleh would make such an odd statement about her love for her father and yet, it still meant that she truly loves her father, even if the statement “meat loves salt” sounded a bit odd to both her father and the reader (unless you think about that statement really hard). Louise August’s artwork is beautiful and cute to look at as all the characters are drawn in a cute way and I really loved the Polish outfits that the characters wear such as the large dresses with the aprons that the female characters wear and the polo jackets and baggy trousers that the male characters wear.
Parents should know that the core part of this story is that the father ends up kicking his own daughter out of his home due to his daughter’s odd comment about how much she loves him. This could upset some readers as it hits closely home to children who were forcibly put out of their own homes by their parents or have dealt with parents who were abusive towards them. Parents might want to reassure their children that while such abuse can happen in real life, they should let their children know that they will always love them no matter what happens.
Overall, “The Way Meat Loves Salt” is a beautiful story about what true love really is and the importance of family no matter what kind of differences you may have with each other. I would recommend this book to children ages six and up since the Jewish terms might be a bit confusing for some smaller readers and the scene of the daughter being kicked out of her home might upset some children.