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The Demons' Mistake: A Story from Chelm Hardcover – August, 2000


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 5 and up
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten and up
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Greenwillow Books (August 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688175651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688175658
  • Product Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.8 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,338,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For all those in today's workaday world who wonder just who to curse when their computers go haywire, the milk turns sour, and the traffic lights get fouled up, the answer is plain. The demons! These mischievous imps like nothing better than to spoil people's fun, and will go to great lengths to do so. Take the demons of Chelm, Poland, for example. Bored with messing up the foolish villagers' hair and making livestock fly, the demons decide to take their mischief on the road--to an amazing-sounding place called New York. There, they've heard, the streets are paved with gold, the buildings are made of silver, and there are parties every day--a perfect opportunity for havoc wreaking. So the small-town demons sneak into a crate en route to America. A series of mishaps keeps them stranded in a warehouse near the shipyards for fifty years. When they are finally freed they find themselves in a stranger world than they ever imagined. It's going to be a challenge to find ways to torment this all-new variety of humans who bustle around in cars, speak on cell phones, and watch TV--but they'll manage.

Francine Prose and Mark Podwal's clever tale will delight readers of all ages with its sly humor and mysterious full- and double-page smudgy gouache illustrations. This entirely original tale tastes strongly of the Old World, with the wry seasoning of modernity. (Ages 6 to 10) --Emilie Coulter

From Publishers Weekly

Expert at refashioning Jewish folktales, Prose (previously paired with Podwal for The Angel's Mistake: Stories of Chelm) invents one just right for contemporary audiences. The story begins in Chelm, the legendary town of fools, where demons are just itching to ruin the party Reb Pupkin and his wife are giving for their son, Chaim, visiting them from America. But when ChaimDnow calling himself CharlesDdescribes the wonders of New York City (streets paved with gold, meals five times a day, parties all day and all night), the demons believe him. They slip themselves into a packing crate bound for America but, for various reasons, the crate goes unopened for more than 50 years. When the demons finally see New York, their tricks don't carry much weight. If they make the milk go sour, for example, people "would just go to the corner and get more." Even their decision to unveil themselves backfiresDthey do not know they are at a Halloween party, where their scary appearance will go undetected. Eventually, they figure out how to cause trouble (personal computers, for example, present rich possibilities). This funny, unexpectedly sympathetic story finds its match in Podwal's illustrations. Less folkloric than in previous works, his paintings discreetly isolate key elements of the narrative. The understated compositions keep the demons' doings puckish rather than wicked, and the sunny colors buoy the already light tone. Ages 5-up.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 7, 2001
Format: Library Binding
This story from Chelm features pictures by Mark Podwal and a tale which requires good reading skills as it tells of the demons of the Polish town of Chelm, where only fools live. The demons decide to move to New York City, but find the big city is more than a match for their spirits in The Demons' Mistake, a fine story of adjustments.
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Format: Hardcover
It's too bad the demons who struck New York on September 11 didn't come from Chelm. Though fools, they'd have learned (from Francine Prose) the utter dementia induced by trying to tackle the New World with the Old.

They'd have been locked up in crates for 50 years, trying to get out. They'd have found that rubbing against party guests in embarrassing places, turning wine into vinegar, curdling the milk and tangling hair doesn't frighten people in a city that knows no darkness, even when the moon doesn't shine.

They'd have known that while gossip was to the Old World "like opening the door and letting the demons in," New World people gossiped all the time. They'd have learned that New Yorkers frightened the demons more than the demons frightened them.

Of course, Francine Prose did not write this story as an allegory about September 11, 2001. The book came out a year earlier. And Sept. 11 was obviously no joke.

Yet post Sept. 11, the New World voice Prose gave to Chelm's mythic Old World laughter and lessons seems addressed to the foolish medieval demons who struck at America's heart without cause: Only those smart enough to adapt survive and thrive. That's why we will win.

It's a good lesson, if only those demons would pay attention. And your kids will understand it, even if the demons don't.

--Alyssa A. Lappen
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More About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of sixteen books of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. A former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Francine Prose lives in New York City.