Ilse Weber was a masterful storyteller who had a wonderful knack for stories in which impudent children get their due, bad guys are punished, and good reigns supreme. It’s especially sorrowful, in light of the idealism reflected in her stories, that this writer, who published three children’s books between 1927 and 1930, met her end during the Holocaust.
One of her books, Mendel Rosenbusch: Tales for Jewish Children, was recently translated from German into English by Ruth and Hans Fisher. The 58-page book has as its central character an old Jew called Mendel who has two distinct powers: he can read people’s thoughts through their eyes and he can make himself invisible. “That was the wonderful gift that God had given him in return for being so kindhearted,” Weber writes.
In the ten stories that follow, we see stingy people learn to be generous and mischievous children channel their naughtiness into performing good deeds. Each story takes place against a very Jewish backdrop and on a calendar marked only by the Jewish holidays. The stories are delightful, each with a moral lesson but one not didactically delivered. Ruth and Hans Fisher are to be commended for translating this literary treasure chest and partnering it with the gorgeous illustrations of P. John Burden. Children aged four through nine will definitely enjoy these stories, particularly when they are patiently read out loud by the right adult.
Lauren Kramer is a Vancouver-based journalist, wife, and mother with a lifelong passion for literature. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, she has won awards for her writing and reported from many corners of the world. Read more of her work at www.laurenkramer.net.