Rather than regret or atone for his everyday mistakes, baker Gershon simply sweeps them into his basement. Once a year on Rosh Hashanah, he stuffs these demon-shaped transgressions in a giant bag and dumps them into the Black Sea. Of course, Gershon must discover sooner or later that his selfish acts cannot be disposed of so easily. In spite of a pointed warning from a rabbi, Gershon refuses to realize that his behavior will come back to haunt him someday. It's only when he is faced with the monstrous bulk of his misdeeds that Gershon finally, truly repents.
Eric A. Kimmel's beautiful retelling of the traditional Hasidic legend for the Jewish New Year captures all the weighty value of responsibility and forgiveness. In his author's note, Kimmel describes the Rosh Hashanah ceremony called tashlikh, in which people gather at the seashore or by a river to recite biblical verses and turn their pockets inside out, allowing bread crumbs to fall into the water--a symbolic casting-off of sins.
Award-winning illustrator Jon J Muth's expressive and luminous watercolors, suffused with the pale golden light of day or oppressed under a lowering coastal sky, are unforgettable, as is the remarkably frightening yet stunning "immense black monster covered with scales like iron plates," on each of which is written one of Gershon's misdeeds. Muth's extraordinary work can also be seen in author Karen Hesse's lovely picture book Come On, Rain! (Ages 5 to 9) --Emilie Coulter
From Publishers Weekly
This presentation of a Hasidic legend has everything a reader could want: a suspenseful story, an insightful lesson and brilliant pictures that accelerate the delivery of both. Central to the plot is the custom of tashlikh, the ritual casting of sins into the water on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Gershon the baker, "not always the best person he could be," begins to rely on this practice as a way of dealing with his mistakes: instead of apologizing and making amends, he sweeps his thoughtless deeds into the cellar every Friday and, on Rosh Hashanah, he stuffs them into a sack, drags it to the sea and tosses it in. Of course, he will learn true repentance - but not before he receives a cryptic prophecy from a sage and, much later, faces down the sea monster his sins have created. Relegating words like tashlikh to a meaty author's note (which also describes Jewish principles of t'shuvah, or repentance), Kimmel (Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins) uses everyday language, letting the moral shine through his astute storytelling. The airy watercolor illustrations, loaded with period detail, transcend the particularities of the setting by virtue of Muth's (Come On, Rain!) expansive imaginative vision. He enhances the comedy in the premise by painting the sins as tiny horned imps who jeer as they face Gershon's broom (they grow a bit nastier as the story advances), yet he leaves room for a humane depiction of Gershon, more self-absorbed than wicked, and for a psychologically canny and dramatic portrayal of the monster. A memorable work, welcome at any time of year. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)
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