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.