The Incred­i­ble Shrink­ing Lunchroom

Michal Babay; Paula Cohen, illus.

  • Review
By – July 25, 2022

The clas­sic Jew­ish folk­tale about the crowd­ed house that becomes even more crowd­ed when the wise rab­bi sug­gests adding farm ani­mals to the mix has been told in count­less ver­sions over the years, some using the tra­di­tion­al vil­lage set­ting, oth­ers a vari­ety of unique twists. This new take on the sto­ry is set in a mod­ern-day school build­ing and, when the sto­ry begins, the lunch­room is packed with stu­dents. It is so crowd­ed that it’s hard to find a place to sit and food spills on every­one and every­thing. The stu­dents write a let­ter to Mrs. Men­sch, the prin­ci­pal, ask­ing for a solu­tion to the prob­lem. Much as the sage, learned rab­bi in the orig­i­nal tale, Mrs. Men­sch has her own meth­ods that are not appar­ent to the stu­dents. The sci­ence fair dis­plays are moved to the lunch­room, the class­room pets are relo­cat­ed to the tables, and the sports teams are invit­ed in for prac­tice. When the stu­dents com­plain about the over­crowd­ing, which is even worse than before, the sports teams return out­doors, the pets to the class­rooms, and the sci­ence projects to the hall­ways. The stu­dents can now enjoy the roomy lux­u­ry of their new” lunchroom.

An author’s note cred­its one ver­sion of the sto­ry, It Could Always Be Worse by Mar­got Zemach, as the inspi­ra­tion for this rol­lick­ing book, with its amus­ing, car­toon-like illus­tra­tions and straight­for­ward yet delight­ful prose. Babay retells Zemach’s sto­ry, cit­ing the pos­i­tive effect it has had on her life and high­light­ing the Jew­ish con­cept of sameach b’chelko, or being grate­ful for all one has. Babay also uses the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on the over­crowd­ing in many schools and the toll this takes on ded­i­cat­ed teach­ers. She express­es the hope that the sit­u­a­tion will improve and gives a well-deserved nod to edu­ca­tors who teach in over­crowd­ed schools, empha­siz­ing that a pos­i­tive point of view goes a long way in ame­lio­rat­ing con­di­tions while work­ing for change.

This charm­ing take on the clas­sic sto­ry can be used by par­ents and teach­ers to pro­mote dis­cus­sion, but it is also just plain fun.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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