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Shlemiel Crooks Hardcover – May, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 3-5–This delightful story is based on a true incident reported in the St. Louis Jewish Record in 1919, in which Reb Elias Olschwanger's liquor store was almost robbed of its Passover wine (brought in special from the Land of Israel no less) by a couple of inept thieves. But that's not the whole story because Reb Elias also recounts his own version of the exodus from Egypt, with the Hebrews absconding with linen and jewels and raisins–raisins? Anyway, you remember the part where Pharaoh chases after the Israelites and ends up in the Red Sea? Turns out his ghost is still wandering around St. Louis of all places, whispering in the ears of the crooks to go rob the store, only they get scared off by some noisy neighbors and a talking horse. This tale is a pleasure and a hoot; it rings so true with the voice of a Yiddishe grandmother that it's practically historical fiction (minus the ghost). The boldly colored, expressive illustrations enhance the humor so you shouldn't get bored.– Teri Markson, Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School, Los Angeles
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Gr. 2-4. Shtetl humor and magic realism come to St. Louis in 1919 in this wry Pesach story based on the experience of the author's great-grandfather, who sold kosher wines. While Reb Elias is at synagogue leading a Talmud discussion (OK, an argument) about the first Passover (when the Israelites were booted out of Egypt), Pharaoh's ghost arrives in St. Louis, still sneaking around and trying to put one over on the Jews. He persuades a couple of crooks ("onions should grow in their navels") to steal Reb Elias' special Passover wine, but with help from the prophet Elijah and a talking horse, the bumbling thieves are chased away by noisy neighbors. The boldly colored woodcuts give life to the city neighborhood, the foolish villains, and the lively arguments as well as to the daring Israelites, escaping across the desert 3000 years ago. The best thing here, however, is Olswanger's Yiddish storyteller's voice, particularly the hilarious curses she weaves into the story: "His teeth should fall out, except one, then he could have a toothache." Great for reading aloud. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 and up
  • Grade Level: 2 and up
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: New South Inc; First Edition edition (May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158838165X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1588381651
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 8.8 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,859,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After nine years at Liza Dawson Associates in New York, Anna launched her own agency Olswanger Literary LLC in 2014. Her clients include the New York Times best-selling author Michael Hall and the Newbery Honor Book winner Vince Vawter.

"The Home of the Blues" (Memphis) is the backdrop to much of Anna's own fiction, including "Chicken Bone Man," which won Maryland's F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest.

Her first children's book Shlemiel Crooks is based on a Yiddish newspaper article she uncovered about the attempted robbery of her great-grandfather's kosher liquor store in St. Louis in 1919. Shlemiel Crooks is a Sydney Taylor Honor Book and PJ Library Book.

In 2011 the Kaufman Center in New York adapted "Chicken Bone Man" and Shlemiel Crooks into a musical for families, which premiered at Merkin Concert Hall. The musical is available for licensing from

Anna's latest book for young readers is Greenhorn, an illustrated children's novel inspired by the true story of a young Holocaust survivor. It is now an independent film.

Anna is also the rights holder and licenser for the music of Memphis composer Berl Olswanger. You can hear his music at

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bibliophilic on August 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
This wacky book is based Olswanger's own family history. Attempting to find out more about her great-grandparents, she found old advertisements of their saloon in St. Louis over a hundred years ago, as well as documentation of an attempted robbery of the business. Olswanger wrote her own (fictional) take on the events, much to our enjoyment.

Two crooks, inspired by Pharaoh's ghost, decide to raid the Passover wine shipment. Warned off by a talking horse and loud neighbors, the unlucky crooks leave behind their own horse and cart. The narration (reminiscent of Sid Fleischmann at his best, or maybe Sholom Aleichem) is hilarious, and draws on Torah, Gemara, Jewish history, and culture. The setting sets *Shlemiel Crooks* apart from most Jewish books, and the artwork is colorful and appealing.

The sophisticated (often Yiddish) vocabulary, dense allusions to Jewish religion & culture, & word count make this book best for ages 7 (maybe 8) and's truly enjoyable for readers normally too mature for the picture book genre.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A delightful book in every way. Lyrically written and lavishly illustrated, Shlemiel Crooks weaves together the Passover story, old St. Louis and gentle humor to produce a "read it again" story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Book Lover 9 on May 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From the Yiddish-inflected narration to the happy ending, this book is a gem. It's a story about Passover, a story about St. Louis, and an interesting bit of Jewish American History. Paula Goodman Koz's illustrations are a perfect complement to Anna Olswanger's fun and compelling story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Aliana Brewer on August 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Beautifully illustrated and wonderfully written, just full of charm. Very inventive and sure to please. A wonderful way to entertain your child and introduce them to the Yiddish venacular...hilarious and heartwarming all at once!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alyssa A. Lappen VINE VOICE on April 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Here's a delightful story, based on a true event, of the theft of a wagon load of Passover wine from a little Jewish grocer in Cincinatti in 1919.

In case you didn't know, a shelmiel is a luckless and inept fool, lacking enough sense even to change himself (however slightly) for the better. But the reader of this book will have a lot of luck, even if the chief culprits have none.

Besides from offering a great story, this beautifully illustrated picture book is a good reminder of the historical presence of Jewish Americans throughout the U.S., in many capacities.

It's been a while since I bought any new picture books, but if I were still buying them, this one would definitely be on my list.
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