Kid Lit Review of “Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born” by Anna Egan Smucker

As the author’s note explains at the end of the book, “We cannot be exactly sure who invented the pretzel.” But there are a number of theories, and this book expands on one of them, involving a monk who formed leftover bread dough to look like arms crossed in prayer.


In this story, Brother Giovanni is a happy man who is considered the best baker his monastery had ever had. But all was not well in his monastery. The Bishop was due to arrive, and the Abbot was worried their funding would be cut off because their young pupils could not say their prayers. No one else had succeeded in getting the children to learn, and the Abbot turned to Brother Giovanni to come up with a miracle. The Abbot suggested he “use his gifts.”


Brother Giovanni prayed for guidance. He tried teaching the children to sing their prayers; he tried teaching them to dance while praying; he even tried (unsuccessfully) to look mean; nothing worked!


Then shortly before the Bishop came, he had an idea while praying with his arms crossed. He would make baked treats that resembled arms folded in prayer.


“As the days went by, miracle of miracles, the children learned their prayers. For Brother Giovanni’s little rewards – pretiolas, he called them – everyone was working as hard as they could.”

By the time the Bishop came, the children could recite their prayers perfectly, and they all celebrated with figs, nuts, and Brother Giovanni’s pretiolas, or pretzels.


The story concludes with a note from the author about the history behind the story, and a recipe for soft pretzels.

The vivid and playful illustrations by the much-awarded illustrator, Amanda Hall, were created using watercolor inks combined with gouache. She continues, as in previous books, to employ some techniques reminiscent of the painter Henri Rousseau, such as his “naïve” style, magical imagery, and his playful variations in scale. The detail and imaginary aspects of the pictures will keep the intended audience of ages 4-8 transfixed.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2015

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9 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward: How the Pretzel Was Born” by Anna Egan Smucker

  1. Tina says:

    Cute story. I love a pretzel but never considered the shape much ☺️

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I never thought about where pretzels came from. What a fun book!

  3. Beth F says:

    I think I’ve heard a few stories about pretzels but never heard the one about the arms crossed in prayer. The shape definitely fits! Very cute story and love the illustrations.

  4. What a fun story! I love the look of the illustrations and this sounds like a fun read aloud book. Plus, who doesn’t love a soft pretzel?

  5. Jackie says:

    I’ve started making my own pretzels so this story is perfect!

  6. Vicki says:

    What a cute story, I’m glad the children finally learned to recite their prayers. I love soft pretzels.

  7. Lovely illustrations Cheers

  8. Trish says:

    I never heard the theory that the pretzel was arms folded with prayer. I love how colorful the illustrations are!

  9. Rachel says:

    I’ve never heard this explanation for pretzels before – very cute!

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