Using various aspects of train travel as a metaphor for life, Gadi Pollack presents parables from Jewish sources to teach Jewish children about proper conduct. The slim plot is that of a poor man who has always dreamed of riding on a train. He saves and scrapes to earn enough for a ticket, finally in his ignorance paying enough for a ticket in the first-class compartment, but boarding the third-class car. He sees people occasionally at their best, more often at their worst, on this train journey. Most of the two-page spreads feature text boxes with teachings from one of the Rabbis (mostly the Chafetz Chaim, but also including Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, and Rabbi Chaim Brisker, among others). The texts frequently have only a tenuous connection to the scene in the illustration, and children may find the characters’ telegraphed conversations and the traditional texts confusing. While some of the lessons are good ones for children to learn, including the importance of having spiritual goals rather than material ones, the importance of setting manageable goals, and the importance of giving tzedakah, others may be beyond them (being patient when reaching out to unaffiliated Jews, for example). The characters that people the pages are stereotypically Jewish-looking peasants, for the most part, and are all male. A glossary defines the many Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian words and expressions used throughout. As the introduction explains, parables are frequently an excellent teaching device; however, if the student can’t draw a connection between the parable and his/her life, the learning opportunity is lost. Ages 9 – 12.
Marci Lavine Bloch earned her MLS from the University of Maryland, a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in English Literature from Fordham University. She has worked in synagogue and day school libraries and is currently finishing her term on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.