A Book About Bubkes

  • Review
By – August 23, 2023

Words often do not trans­late eas­i­ly between lan­guages; the Yid­dish term bup­kes is a per­fect exam­ple. While it lit­er­al­ly means noth­ing,” Leslie Kim­mel­man and Rox­ana de Rond show that it has a dis­tinct and emphat­ic tone that is miss­ing from its Eng­lish equiv­a­lent. Begin­ning by empha­siz­ing the col­or­ful impact of the word, A Book About Bup­kes explores how blank noth­ing­ness can become just the opposite.

Accord­ing to Kim­mel­man, the term means Noth­ing! Zero. Zilch.” But bup­kes is a tricky con­cept: point­ing to a noth­ing nec­es­sar­i­ly makes it a some­thing. A park that has been cleared of trash — and now con­tains bup­kes — is a beau­ti­ful envi­ron­ment. A sink emp­tied of its dirty dish­es — and thus filled with bup­kes — is a sign of accom­plish­ment. De Rond’s play­ful illus­tra­tion shows a girl and her father wash­ing dish­es togeth­er, sur­round­ed by the art­ful­ly arranged clut­ter of a busy kitchen. The sink over­flows with soap bub­bles, and the con­tents of cracked eggs spill onto the floor, but joy­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion results in a sparkling scene, includ­ing the kosher cook­book that is now vis­i­ble on the counter. Rather than elim­i­nat­ing a chaot­ic mess, this act of love defines the book’s very essence. The exam­ples build from tan­gi­ble changes, which are eas­i­est to under­stand, to more con­cep­tu­al ones. When the girl is sit­ting alone on a bench and makes a friend, their activ­i­ty togeth­er leaves the bench vacant but their hearts full.

The cumu­la­tive effect of both words and pic­tures implies the per­for­mance of a mitz­vah in every scene. A Book About Bup­kes changes the famil­iar notion of bup­kes into some­thing tru­ly new.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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