“Happy Harry’s Café,” by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Richard Holland; Candlewick Press, $16.99 32 pages, ages 3-5.
English poet Michael Rosen (“We’re going on a Bear Hunt”) takes a classic Jewish joke and crafts a quirky rhyme around it in this warm and toasty picture book. Harry, who appears to be a polar bear, makes the best soup in town. Ryan the Lion, Jo the Crow, even Matt the Cat rush in to taste this perfect potage. “Take it easy!” Harry admonishes his hurried customers, but perhaps Harry has taken his own advice once too often. One day Matt the Cat says the soup is no good, and from there develops the gag to its quirky punchline. Rosen’s easy to follow rhymes are printed in large type which resemble woodblock cuttings. This allows budding readers to pick out words like “soup” and “spoon” on their own. Veteran illustrator Richard Holland’s mixed-media illustrations are whimsical and fill each page. “Happy Harry’s Café” is great for reading aloud. This story, like a good bowl of lentil, chicken noodle, or matzo, will totally satisfy and warm the spirit on a cold winter day.