A Crowd­ed Farm­house Folktale

Karen Ros­tok­er-Gru­ber, Kristi­na Swarn­er (illus.)

  • Review
By – December 28, 2020

It’s impos­si­ble to read too many ver­sions of the ven­er­a­ble Jew­ish folk­tale often titled, It Could Always Be Worse. You might be famil­iar with the quirky, charm­ing tale of a fam­i­ly liv­ing in a house too small, who calls on the wise old rab­bi for advice; he directs them to bring all their ani­mals into the house so when the ani­mals return to the farm­yard, the house feels spa­cious and roomy. There are count­less ver­sions of the sto­ry, set in count­less loca­tions, but the tale is so appeal­ing and filled with such intrin­sic wis­dom and charm that one hopes the vari­a­tions go on and on.

This new ver­sion by Karen Ros­tok­er-Gru­ber is a wel­come addi­tion to the genre. This retelling is set in a coun­try farm­house, and the usu­al advice-giv­ing wise man is refresh­ing­ly replaced by an equal­ly wise woman; it has lilt­ing rhymes and beg­ging-to-be-read-aloud rhythms, accom­pa­nied by col­or illus­tra­tions filled with vital­i­ty and ener­gy. It’s an intrin­si­cal­ly humor­ous sto­ry, but here the text and illus­tra­tions are filled with addi­tion­al com­ic touch­es. The too many chil­dren to count,” the rhyming descrip­tions of farm ani­mal may­hem, and the depic­tion of the suf­fer­ing but ami­able fam­i­ly, all make smiles turn into hearty laughs as the sto­ry pro­ceeds. The ani­mals sport whim­si­cal facial expres­sions and the chil­dren look suit­ably befud­dled and good-natured in their crowd­ed, itty-bit­ty” home. The illus­tra­tion of one lit­tle boy is rem­i­nis­cent of Sendak’s naughty boys. Each ani­mal nes­tles into the house in a com­ic posi­tion: a horse in the tub, a duck in the toi­let, a lamb unplug­ging the toast­er. This is all wor­thy of more than a chuck­le; only a hearty guf­faw will do. The story’s peace­ful res­o­lu­tion seems to emit an almost audi­ble sigh of relief as the huge­ly-huge” fam­i­ly looks for­ward to their hap­pi­ly-ever-after. This sto­ry is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for those wish­ing for a rol­lick­ing good time and a dose of addi­tion­al humor into an age-old tale of wisdom.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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