Mendel Rosen­busch: Tales for Jew­ish Children

Ilse Weber; Ruth & Hans Fish­er, trans.; P. John Bur­den, illus.
  • Review
By – May 30, 2013
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​.lau​renkramer​.net.

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