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Kibitzers and Fools
School Library Journal
These 13 tales range in humor from slapstick to ridiculous to poignant. Each story includes a Yiddish word or two followed by a simple translation and ends with a saying, e.g., "Not every thought is worth expressing"; "Everyone has his own craziness." The detail-filled cartoon illustrations include an occasional piece of realism-a tidbit of matzo; a snippet of cloth; little faces cut from photographs, with beards, hats, and rosy cheeks painted on; pieces of patterned paper that form a scarf or trim clothing. The stories take place in the small Jewish villages that existed in Eastern Europe during the late-19th- and early-20th centuries. Mixed-media paintings with predominantly gold backgrounds, type that looks hand printed, and a riot of color and pattern on each expertly designed page offer strong visual appeal. A glossary of Yiddish words is included. Some of the humor is a bit sophisticated, especially for those who have no background to which they can relate the stories. Libraries in synagogues and Jewish secular schools will want to purchase this collection, as will public libraries in areas where there is interest in Jewish literature..
Review by Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information
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Publishers Weekly
Life, of course, is a fountain," says a rabbi to a boychik who has sought the meaning of life. "Life is a fountain?" replies narrator Yankel, exhausted after his arduous quest for an answer. "Why is life a fountain?" The rabbi ponders, while standing on his head. "OK," the rabbi says. "So life is not a fountain." With this and a dozen other stories-told to Yankel by his zayda (grandfather)-Caldecott Medalist Taback (Joseph Had a Little Overcoat) offers readers something perhaps more valuable than chicken soup for the soul; call it chopped liver for the heart. With enormous affection for his Yiddishkeit heritage, Taback introduces youngsters to the wry wit, down-to-earth wisdom and evocative vocabulary of Jewish Eastern Europeans (the final page is a glossary of primo Yiddishisms such as "shmendrik [ a dope]"). The world depicted in these stories of kibitzers ("busybodies"), rebbes ("rabbis") and people with names like Mendel and Shmul may seem long ago and far away to many readers. But the stories' warmhearted silliness, combined with Taback's characteristically irrepressible drawing style, easily transcends the boundaries of time and ethnicities. As long as there is "So much mishegas in the world," as a headline of one character's Yiddish Post proclaims (one of the many visual asides that make Taback's books so delightful), these tales will never be stale. Mazel tov, Taback!.
Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information
Booklist
Like Taback's Caldecott-winning book, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (1999), this uproarious book celebrates the shtetl scene with energetic, mixed-media pictures in bright, folk-art style. But there is nothing sweet and gentle this time. The 13 tales, based on Yiddish tradition, focus on self-important fools; the chief rabbi is no more able to answer the question, "What is life?" than the goats and chickens. Yiddish is a joyful part of the telling (most of the terms are in the appended glossary), and the endpapers are a patchwork of wry sayings from daily life. Some stories end a little abruptly, but most are enjoyable. Best of all is the tale of "two kibitzers (smart alecs, know-it-alls)" who get into a "philosophical dispute" about why, when a slice of buttered bread falls to the floor, it always lands on the buttered side: the farce of the telling; the curses and platitudes; the lively, intricately detailed pictures of the community; and the climax are unforgettable. Families will want to share this.
Review by Hazel Rochman. Copyright © 2005 American Library Association
Tales My Zayda Told Me
With old world charm, universal humor, and just a bit of chutzpah, Simms Taback offers this lively spin on thirteen playful tales-as only he could. Paired with his trademark vibrant and hilarious artwork, these stories illustrate ultimate widespread truths and important life lessons, from the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel to the idea that just because you can talk doesn't mean you make sense. Taback delivers the perfect combination of wisdom and humor-just the way your zayda (grandpa) would.
— from the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews
If you sat Webster, Aesop and Sholem Aleichem around a rickety table and served them some chicken soup with or without the rice, you might achieve something as delightful as Taback's old world Yiddish storytelling-cum-definitions-cum-morals, all learned from his zayda (grandfather). These short but very wise vignettes come out of a world of poverty imbued with spiritual richness and a strong dose of practicality. From sick chickens to torn umbrellas, from quests for the meaning of life, to schlemiels (fools) dumping soup onto the laps of schlimazels (unlucky ones), the stories are gems for reading and telling. Taback's signature style of colorful and zany illustrations is delightful. As he says: "A suit of clothing is as good as the tailor." In this case, the author/artist has stitched together a very fine suite of stories.
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