AGE: 12 up
In this story of many beginnings and no dead-ends, Ronit Matalon creates three protagonists so spirited and entertaining that each is a picaresque hero in his own right. First there is Benjamin, who saves his schoolmate from a poisonous snake and becomes a legend in his small town outside Tel Aviv. He is also known for jumping off the water tower, putting together a four-person bicycle, and bribing the mailman to give him - and not his mother - the letters his father sends.
Where Benjamin is secretive and composed, his sister Margalit, 11, is tempestuous; when she is happy she writes rhapsodies to her cousin signed “your loving and ever-loyal cousin.” When she is sad she runs to her grandmother, Madame Rachelle, who cheers her up: “What can you do? Today he wants the Lebanese girl, tomorrow he’ll want you.” Madame Rachelle is the star of this story. It is largely thanks to her – the way she gives her hand to be kissed when she meets a gentleman at an ice-cream parlor, the North-African French she speaks – that the book owes its piquant Mediterranean charm.
With her endless store of aphorisms and stories, Madame Rachelle is ready for any challenge, and her grandchildren’s escapades show that they take after her. Benjamin and Margalit run off to Tel Aviv to look for their dog, and come home empty-handed. Yet their adventure includes a night with a family of Arab fishermen and lunch with a fanciful importer of multilingual parrots – their father, of course. Matalon describes the children’s losses – of their dog, their money, their father – without sentimentality, showing instead how enthusiasm and imagination can turn any dilemma into an adventure.
Illustrations: Ruth Tzarfati
English translation excerpt available (for publishers only)