“Mitzvah the Mutt” does something that I have long been wishing for as a librarian at a Jewish day school. It tells a story that has Jewish content, without being excessively didactic. In the process, it tells a wonderful story about a family and their delightful dog. The author, Sylvia Rouss, is better known for her Sammy Spider series of Jewish content books for preschoolers. This book is geared toward older children who are independent readers of short chapter books.
Mitzvah narrates his own story, a tactic that is sure to please the youngsters who can’t get enough of animal books. Because Mitzvah doesn’t always accurately interpret what is going on around him, children will get pleasure from knowing more than he does. As he learns more about the family that adopted him and their Jewish practices, Mitzvah comes to join in and become one of the family.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the charming illustrations by Martha Rast that go a long way toward giving Mitzvah his special charm. She makes him look like what he is described as—a lovable, goofy mutt.
It’s clear to see why the Association of Jewish Libraries chose to recognize this book as a “Sydney Taylor Award Notable Book for Older Children.” It keeps children interested in the antics of the dog while at the same time making him part of a clearly Jewish family. Children are sure to start wondering what their pets are thinking as a result.