Solomon and the Ant: And Oth­er Jew­ish Folktales

Retold by Shel­don Ober­man; Penin­nah Schram, intro. and commentary
  • Review
By – July 9, 2012
Much heart has gone into the cre­ation of this hand­some book, in which 43 gen­tly humor­ous, Jew­ish teach­ing folk­tales call to be shared aloud. Selec­tions include reli­gious sto­ries, fables and wis­dom, trick­ster and rid­dle tales, warm­ly retold by the late Shel­don Ober­man, of The Always Prayer Shawl fame, and lov­ing­ly wrapped with expert com­men­tary by Penin­nah Schram, who pre­pared the man­u­script for pub­li­ca­tion at his request. Live­ly dia­logue refresh­es tra­di­tion­al favorites and intro­duces many new tales less like­ly to be found in oth­er mod­ern col­lec­tions. Char­ac­ter resource­ful­ness abounds. A mer­chant tricks a farmer into return­ing stolen mon­ey by let­ting him think he will be able to steal more. A girl learns how to face a bul­ly by first col­lect­ing three hairs from a fright­en­ing dog. A dis­con­tent­ed man comes to accept his own prob­lems when he sees what is hap­pen­ing in oth­er hous­es. Mai­mon wins a poi­son­ing con­test with­out using any real poi­son at all. King Solomon learns humil­i­ty from an ant. Sto­ries, some giv­en new set­tings, take place through time in Hol­land, Moroc­co, Amer­i­ca, and Eng­land, as well as East­ern Europe and Bib­li­cal lands. Oberman’s notes set his­tor­i­cal con­text for the tales, and Schram’s expand what a par­tic­u­lar sto­ry reveals about Jew­ish tra­di­tions and val­ues. Both gen­er­ous­ly slide in oth­er sto­ries and delec­table tid­bits. Clas­sic ori­gins for the tales, along with select­ed sources and vari­ants and motifs, com­plete each entry. The book ends with a glos­sary and com­pre­hen­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy of approx­i­mate­ly one hun­dred folk­lore col­lec­tions. There is so much here. Attract­ed by Lloyd Bloom’s arrest­ing jack­et art, read­ers will want to stay. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 8 and up.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er and a school librar­i­an for forty years in NYC, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

Discussion Questions