The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith
Author: Josephine Nobisso; Illustrator: Katalin Szegedi
Pages: 32
Publisher/Date: Gingerbread House/2002
ISBN: 0940112094
Grade Levels: All

Book Review

The story begins in a faraway land where a king is preparing to marry his future bride in the cathedral, "even though he knew only a handful of old women would attend the Holy Mass." Why so few in attendance? Because the "king's people had grown cold and careless in the practice of their faith."

Meanwhile we find in the town's bake shop the king's subjects "soaring in high spirits and decked in finery . . . carrying away the finest confections and loaves of bread." In one part of the shop, the baker's young son stands, guarding the royal, layers-high wedding cake.

Into this abundance walks a stooped old widow, her clothes patched. "For the love of God," she begs of the baker quietly, "if you will give me a crust of stale bread, I will offer my Mass tonight for you." The baker, more interested in money than Mass, refuses her. The baker's son protests. Still, the baker is unmoved.

Even as the widow accepts the baker's rebuke and prepares to leave, the baker continues to ridicule her. "Let's see how much bread I would owe you!" he tells her. He then tore "a tiny corner off his finest tissue paper, and read aloud as he formed two miniscule works: 'One Mass.'" This he places on his bright, brass scale. In the other tray he puts a slice of old bread. But the bread does not cause the tray holding the scrap of paper to rise! How could this be? Surely the bread weighs more than the paper.

The baker begins to place more baked goods on the bread's side. The paper side does not rise. More goods are piled atop the bread. "Still, the tray holding the paper stayed down." The baker decides there must be something wrong with his scale. He tests the scale with weights. To his consternation, the scale works perfectly. Everyone in the bake shop is amazed and mystified.

Once again the baker places the tiny piece of fragile paper onto one side of the scale; this time on the opposite side. Again he piles high the other side. On go donuts, "fruitcakes and cream cakes, berry tarts and poached pears . . . plum pudding and candied fruits, almond confetti and crushed walnuts." Again, the tiny paper does not rise.

Finally the baker has had enough and places the royal wedding cake on the scales. "The paper on which the baker had written the words, 'One Mass' hadn't even fluttered." As everyone stands in awe, the cathedral's bell begins to toll. The baker's son looks intently at the piece of paper and then lifts it from the scale's tray. Suddenly and swiftly all the baked goods, including the royal wedding cake, tumble to the ground. It is a true miracle.

Telling the old woman that she can come to his shop every day, the baker removes his apron and prepares to attend Mass. The old widow "tucked only a thin slice of bread into her pocket."

This tale is one of opposites held in perfect balance: a weighty theme gracefully and liltingly told; deprivation in the midst of abundance; incredulity and belief; greed and grace.

The illustrations, too, contribute to this mood. The watercolors are done in warm earth tones, while at the same time, the artist has left light tonal values in the scenes depicted. Thus when we look at the old woman in her dark green shawl and tattered brown dress, for example, we feel a sense of grounded-ness. And yet when we look at her face, there is a glow, a lightness, due to the white background of the paper showing through.

Because there are layers to this tale, much like the layers of the baker's cake, both younger and older readers alike will take pleasure in it. The small ones will enjoy the fairy tale qualities: the funny and fanciful antics of the baker, the lyrical verse, the royal couple, the happy ending. At the same time, for older readers, it is both stirring and thought-provoking. Again, a perfect balance in a perfectly told tale.

Reviewed by K.J. Wagner
©2003 Education Oasis http://www.educationoasis.com

About the Author

Josephine Nobisso has many beloved books to her credit, and her work has earned several significant citations. She has been named The National Catholic Educational Association's distinguished Graduate, and Delta Kappa Gamma honored her with the "Friend of Education Award" for "giving outstanding service to promoting quality education."

About the Illustrator

Katalin Szegedi graduated from the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts where she majored in Applied Graphics and Book Design, earning her Master of Arts Degree in 1991. That same year she began illustrating books in her native Hungary. She has won Hungary's prestigious "The Most Beautiful Children's Book" prize.