Andrew Larsen’s The Bagel King is the endearing tale of a zaida and his grandson Eli, and how they bond over a Sunday ritual of eating bagels: “Warm. Chewy. Salty. Bagels.” Until one day Zaida doesn’t show up at Eli’s house. “He had slipped on some schmutz” and fallen on his “tuches.” Larsen threads the story with familiar Yiddish terms, seamlessly adding a dash of humour.
Now it’s Eli’s turn to visit Zaida, bringing him tubs of chicken soup and books from the library. But the boy can’t stop thinking about their shared passion: “Even the moon looked like a bagel all smothered with cream cheese.” Eventually he makes the trip to Zaida’s favourite bakery to carry on the tradition himself.
The book is full of eccentric supporting characters who populate the bakery, Eli’s neighbourhood, and Zaida’s apartment building. Illustrator Sandy Nichols brings all these individuals and settings to life with fine and airy strokes, caricatural expressions, and postures, poses, and hand gestures – especially that of moustachioed Zaida.
Set in 1950s New York, the retro feel is ever-present: from the chartreuse couch to the checkerboard tiling and the decade-appropriate fashion, including Zaida’s safari shorts and newsboy cap, and the female characters’ cat-eye glasses and denim dungarees. Nichols’s effortless illustrations capture the energy in sunlit streetscapes and warm interiors. And her clever technique of exaggeration – especially in the oversized tubs of soup and bags of bagels Eli carries – complements Larsen’s portrayal of the very determined boy.
This charming and humorous story is a great family read.