Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born Reviews

‘In this thoroughly charming, fictionalized account of the origins of the pretzel, Smucker ventures that this popular snack was the outcome of a flurry of creativity and some pressure from the abbot.  In an imaginary Italian monastery long ago, the monks were in a flap because the children would not learn their prayers, and the bishop would pull their funding if the children continued their rowdy ways. At a loss, the abbot turns to Brother Giovanni to solve the problem. The best baker in the monastery turns out to be just the man to tame the children, wielding smiles, jokes, and crusty, salty bread shaped like praying arms. He calls them pretiolas-little rewards-for those who learn their prayers. Cheerful folkloric images in a modern twist on the traditional Florentine style show smiling faces full of mischief and mirth. In the end, all is well and the bishop is pleased.  A recipe follows this happy food-origins tale.’

–Booklist/ Amina Chaudhri 


‘Drawing from the semi-apocryphal origins of the pretzel, which trace the baked good to a monk in medieval Europe, Smucker (Golden Delicious) introduces Brother Giovanni, “the best baker his monastery had ever had.” With the bishop scheduled to visit the monastery, the children the monks teach must learn to recite their prayers before his arrival. Giovanni tries singing, making “mean” faces, and dancing with the children, but while these attempts bring him closer to the children (the genial monk’s efforts to frown have the children rolling on the floor with laughter), they don’t help them learn their prayers. Taking inspiration from the medieval setting, Hall (The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau) ornaments her bright, playful paintings with filigrees and other decorative elements. When Brother Giovanni has his eureka moment—using the shape of two arms crossed in prayer to create a snack for the ages (and a delicious reward for the children)—he is flanked by two trumpet-playing angels, and a pretzel rests above his head like the flame of the Holy Spirit. It’s a winning blend of the holy and the holey. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)’

–Publishers Weekly Link


‘A fanciful and inventive version of how those yummy big soft pretzels came to be.

Brother Giovanni is a monk of inveterate cheerfulness and a most excellent baker. But the bishop is coming, and the children don’t know their prayers: what to do? The abbot hopes that Brother Giovanni’s youth and smile will coax the children into learning. Brother Giovanni sings to them and allows them to dance at lessons, but that doesn’t work. He even tries Brother Jerome’s advice to put on a stern face (the montage of Giovanni’s attempts at stern faces is very funny). But after a night of sleeplessness and prayer, when he makes far too large a batch of dough, he folds and twists ropes of dough into the position of his arms at prayer and then offers the pretiolas as a reward. Everyone loves them and works hard at learning their prayers to earn the treat. While it was probably a monk who invented pretzels, no one knows for sure, as Smucker explains in a closing note. Hall sets the tale in a candy-colored place of well-scrubbed children; the small monastery is equipped with the requisite cat. Delightfully, a pretzel recipe is included.

As happy a piece of ecclesiastical cuisine as can be imagined (Picture book. 5-9)’

–Kirkus Review Link


‘Brother Giovanni is a happy man, content to do what he knows best: baking. But all is not well at his monastery, where the monks are trying to teach the children their prayers in time for a very important visit from the Bishop. Having tried everything, they turn to Giovanni — but he doesn’t know anything about teaching! Eventually, though, Brother Giovanni discovers how to use his gifts to offer the children the perfect motivation.

 This vibrant book, which includes a historical note and free recipe, tells the fascinating story behind one of the world’s most popular snacks.

What I Like:I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Author Anna Egan Smucker has written a clever story about a monk who invented the pretzel, based on historical sources that attribute the pretzel to an unknown monk in Italy or France in 615 AD. I loved how the shape of the pretzel has significance in its creation and in the book. I think kids will love the story behind the the pretzel and how it relates to Christianity. It is a cute story with the potential to open children’s hearts to praying.

This book is a great for story time to be read by a teacher to the class. The teacher can also learn from this book and can incorporate a pretzel snack to get the children even more interested. There is a recipe in the back for soft pretzels.

The illustrations matched the story very well and are very colorful and  nicely drawn. Illustrator Amanda Hall filled the pages with illustrations that are reminiscent of old paintings but easily likable for children.

The book is large and makes it a great for sharing the book with the children.’

–Christian Children’s Book Review


‘Illustrated by Amanda Hall. Brother Giovanni invents a new reward to persuade children to learn their prayers for the Bishop’s visit. The doughy treats, covered in salt and resembling arms crossed in prayer, were named pretiolas. Known today as pretzels. An imagined story withy a grain of truth, this book includes a recipe for soft pretzels harmonious watercolor and gouache paintings reminiscent of Italian frescoes.’

 Horn Book Guide/ MG 


‘Brother Giovanni was a happy monk who loved to bake. He enjoyed his simple role as baker at the monastery until he was tasked to teach a group of unruly students their prayers before an important visit from the local bishop. But the joyful monk was unsuccessful at being stern and could not control the rowdy bunch. One night in dawned on him to bake his way to success, and Brother Giovanni made little rewards out of salt and dough called “pretiolas“ to entice the children to learn their prayers. Alas, the boys and girls couldn’t resist the “pretiolas“, that we now know as “pretzels”, and they learned their prayers just in time. All readers will enjoy this fun story and beautifully illustrated hardcover book. Ages 4-8.’

–Catholic Accent


‘I love this book! It is beautifully written and illustrated. I plan to use this in a lesson plan with a pretzel-making activity.’

–LibraryThing/ lorenaumc Link


‘Great book! I love the illustrations and the wonderful story about using the gifts God gives you to solve problems that come your way. I like that it’s about children needing to learn their prayers.’

 LibraryThing/ HSmamaof5 


‘This is a lovely little book – with a tasty recipe too!

Where did the pretzel first come from? While there are legends of a monk creating it as a reward for lessons learned, this retelling has a fun gathering of illustrations. The color and style are eye-catching./ I was heading off for tea time at a convent and took it along to read aloud. Everyone (from the young tea-time visitors to the older nuns) thoroughly enjoyed it. The recipe is pretty tasty too!’

 LibraryThing/ ggprof 


‘Anna Egan Smucker’s “Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward” is a sweet retelling of the legend of the first pretzel — in this version, as a reward for children learning their prayers in anticipation of a visit by the bishop.

The vibrant, expressive illustrations by Amanda Hall are a nice compliment to the text. The book also includes a historical footnote and pretzel recipe at the end.’

“Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward” would be a perfect addition to a family, parish, or school library and will delight young readers.’

 LibraryThing/ sullijo 


‘This is a wonderful little story with uplifting illustrations – something I would absolutely recommend for any young children’s library.

The story line is lovely, the main character amiable, the children (who also play a major part) very lively, and the pretzel recipe that closes the book great. There is a good bit of humor in it, too, but without ridicule – very refreshing.

Watch out for the venerable Abbot peeking!’

 LibraryThing/ AnneDenney