Kopecks for Blintzes

Judy Gold­man; Susan Batori, illus.
  • Review
By – July 14, 2016

In the rol­lick­ing pic­ture book retelling of an old folk­tale, a poor teacher and his wife intend to save up enough coins to buy ingre­di­ents to make sweet blintzes for Shavuot and end up caus­ing three new Com­mand­ments to be added to the ten received by Moses….something which could hap­pen only in Chelm, the leg­endary town of wise fools. It begins when Yan­kl and Gitele each agree to drop a coin a day into a trunk with wheels. Yan­kl is sure Gitele will do it, and she thinks he will. Nei­ther one does. And so, when the time comes to open the trunk, only their orig­i­nal two kopecks are there. As they argue, both end up falling into the trunk, which speeds off down­hill from their home, ter­ri­fy­ing the inhab­i­tants of Chelm. When no demons, just Yan­kl and Gitele pop out of the trunk, the rab­bi pon­ders and con­cludes with per­fect Chelm log­ic that from then on no teacher may live on a hill, no teacher may make blintzes, and no teacher may own a trunk with wheels, so this can nev­er hap­pen again. 

Batori’s elon­gat­ed faces and tilt­ed sur­round­ings cap­ture the zani­ness of the action in full col­or. Gold­man seam­less­ly inter­weaves def­i­n­i­tions for blintzes, dybuks (demons), melamed (teacher), and Shavuot itself with­out miss­ing a humor­ous sto­ry beat. The only ques­tion is how the fam­i­ly does end up with the blintzes pic­tured on their plates at the end. This sto­ry of not doing your part, sure some­one else in the com­mu­ni­ty will, has been writ­ten up in col­lec­tions with bring­ing water instead of wine for a cel­e­bra­tion. It has also been set with coins at Purim time. The only oth­er pic­ture book telling still in print, is Bar­bara Goldin’s Moun­tains of Blintzes, where a fam­i­ly in the 1920s Catskills also saves up for a Shavuot treat. There is def­i­nite­ly room for both. Goldin warm­ly empha­sizes the impor­tance of hav­ing every­one pitch in; Goldman’s telling here is wit­ty, as she rel­ish­es shar­ing the com­e­dy of Chelm con­clu­sions with a slight­ly old­er audience. 

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 5 – 9.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she has been help­ing stu­dents vis­it­ing 826 Valen­cia loca­tions around the city to write sto­ries and poems and get­ting adults up and retelling Jew­ish folk­tales to share with their own spin. 

Discussion Questions