Mrs. Kaputnik's Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium by Rona Arato (Canada) - (USA)
Pages: 188 pages
Finished: May 20, 2010
First Published: Apr. 13, 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: children, magical realism, historical fiction
Shoshi Kapustin clapped her hands over her ears to shut out the pitying voices.
Acquired: Received a review copy from LibraryThing's ER Program.
Reason for Reading: The combination of the time period (1898) and a dragon intrigued me. I read this aloud to my 9yo.
The Kapustins have immigrated to the USA because Papa has been gone for five years and has not answered any of their letters. Escaping the Cossacks and worried they arrive on Ellis Island, find the family restaurant and are told Papa left one day and didn't come back. The aunt and uncle running the place have turned it into a shambles. On their first night there, aunt and uncle steal their money leaving a note that they have taken it as payment for the restaurant, Mama can have it, they are going south. Mama must figure out a way to make a living off the restaurant but her matzo balls won't cook properly; they are more like stones. The children are trying to find Papa. The gangster Nick the Stick is making them pay protection money and they are never quite sure if their new friend Mr. Thornswaddle, circus barker extraordinaire, can be trusted. Oh, yes, and by the way they also accidentally brought a baby dragon over with them who doesn't make the situation any easier.
A fun, story with lots of silly situations going on that are unrealistic. The Russian Jew immigrants bring with them a folk tale sense of the tall tale and much that happens in the story is over the top, creating some laugh out loud moments and just plain silliness. But also, the author manages to set the characters in the real world of a turn of the century Jewish neighbourhood in New York and the reader sees the immigrant experience as well as life for a child in this era of New York. The names of the characters are a lot of fun too, such as Aloysius P. Thornswaddle and Dingle Hinglehoffer and the book works well as a read aloud allowing the teller to put on both Jewish and Irish accents during some of the most fun bits.
The one thing that disappointed me was the dragon; he had no charisma. While not being a main character, he was a constant throughout the plot and he did not have a personality of his own. He was very lightly sketched out but there was nothing to endear him to the reading audience. I think if he'd been given a personality his place would have felt more as one of the main characters and it would have given the story that extra bit of oomph that feels to be lacking.