A Ceiling Made of Eggshells

Written by Gail Carson Levine
Review by Meg Wiviott

Loma loves taking care of her young nieces and nephews—her “littles.” More than anything else, she wants to be a Mamá with a husband and children of her own. But Loma’s grandfather, Belo, an influential financer and advisor to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, does not consider what she wants. He wants her to accompany him as he travels throughout Spain helping Jews and conducting royal business. At first, Loma is thrilled; she is seven years old when Belo notices her aptitude with numbers and singles her out from all her siblings. But as the years pass and Belo refuses to find her a husband, Loma resigns herself to having the littles as her only children. After the King and Queen inform Belo and his friend Don Solomon Bohor, another royal advisor, of their plans to banish all the Jews from Spain, Belo is incapacitated by an illness. Fearing the royal couple may kidnap him and forcibly baptize him, now sixteen-year-old Loma must save her grandfather and herself.

A Ceiling Made of Eggshells is a sweeping story of the leadup to Spain’s expulsion of the Jews in 1492. Writing for middle-grade readers, Gail Carson Levine keeps the historical truth age-appropriate. Loma encounters prejudice and anti-Semitism within the first few chapters. She encounters it more intimately as she grows and the story progresses, learning that life for Jews in Spain is as precarious as a ceiling made of eggshells. Levine deftly inserts historical horrors without gratuitousness. Though the story is a bit slow in the beginning, the pace picks up, and the final chapters are fast-paced and filled with real danger. This is an important contribution to a topic rarely covered in children’s literature.