From School Library Journal
Grade 1-3?Anecdotal episodes of life in the fabled village of Chelm are told in one and two sentence paragraphs using modern language that retains no Yiddish flavoring or inflection. What was a barrel of borsht in Solomon Simon's The Wise Men of Helm (Behrman, 1942) becomes a water barrel. The humorous ponderings and discussions of the village elders, so elemental to Eastern European Jewish life and so much a part of Isaac Bashevis Singer's stories, are nowhere in evidence. In fact, one is barely aware that these are Jewish stories beyond the author's note and the mention of the Grand Rabbi. The origin of the town is the connecting thread between the title and the beginning and end of the story, but by simplifying the tales to reach a picture-book audience, the details and descriptions of daily life are lost. There is a subtle difference between calling Chelmites fools and calling them stupid. Fools, as depicted by Simon and Singer, just can't seem to make a sensible decision even though their hearts are in the right place while stupid, as used so often in this book, connotes a lack of intelligence. The gouache paintings are colorful but too indistinct to establish a proper sense of place.?Susan Pine, New York Public Library
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Ages 4^-9. From Sholom Aleichem's shtetl stories to Isaac Bashevis Singer's When Shlemiel Went to Warsaw
(1968), Yiddish folklore has provided rich stories of the earnest, endearing fools of the town of Chelm. Now Prose gives a kind of overview story of how Chelm came to be a foolish center (two angels messed up) and how it was finally destroyed, scattering its foolish inhabitants everywhere. In between, she tells several anecdotes of silliness in daily life: "Of course, the people of Chelm were too stupid to know they were stupid . . . they had an answer for everything." When it rained, they wore their hats upside down to keep them dry. When the man who woke them for morning prayers got too old to go from house to house, they took their doors off their hinges and brought them to him so he could knock on their doors without leaving home. Like the storytelling, Podwal's gouache and colored-pencil illustrations are deadpan, wild, solemn, and absurd. Small children--and those who read to them--will laugh out loud. Hazel Rochman