Judi G.’s new picture book features Mercury, a kind-hearted retired racing greyhound who is taken in by a Jewish family that decides to do a “mitzvah,” or good deed, by adopting him. Mercury, too, decides to start doing mitzvahs: “He helped the nice man by taking HIM for a walk, he helped the nice lady by dusting the furniture with his tail and he helped the nice children by finishing all their uneaten vegetables and cleaning their sticky sugary faces.”
But his biggest chance for a mitzvah comes when the children’s grandmother breaks her leg and goes to a nursing home to recover. The family decides to take Mercury to visit her, and he cheers up everyone he sees — everyone, that is, except Grandma. At first she demands to know what “this mutt” is doing in her room, but soon even she warms to Mercury. On the ride home, the children give their pet the nickname “Mercury the Mitzvah Dog,” which pleases him to no end.
Parents looking for children’s books with Jewish themes will find a plethora of choices. Most of these books, however, focus on holidays or other distinguishing features of Jewish life. It is refreshing to find a story in which the family’s Judaism is clearly present in an original way.
G’s writing is well suited to reading aloud and frequently witty, especially in her descriptions of Mercury’s early attempts at mitzvahs. The book’s only weak spot is Joseph Ingking’s illustrations. Though competently done in a cartoonish style, they are not of the same caliber as the text. Nevertheless, Mercury the Mitzvah Dog would be a nice addition to religious school libraries or a good choice for Jewish-themed story times.