Pancake City: The Golem's Latkes

When I first saw The Golem's Latkes I was skeptical. First, because I find the concept of the Golem a little creepy and second, because I confess I have failed to find many picture books about the Jewish holidays that inspire me. The ones I find in the library all seem to either feel the need to recount every historical detail of the event in full or are about spiders (Sammy, anyone?).

I don't read books about spiders. No matter how good other people say they are. Period.

But I digress.

In Eric Kimmel's latest Hanukkah offering, The Golem's Latkes, Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague crafts the legendary Golem from clay, writes a magical word on his forehead and then sets him to work with household chores. When his housemaid, Basha, requests the Golem to help her get ready for Hanukkah, the Rabbi reluctantly agrees but warns her not to leave the Golem alone or he will never stop working. Basha, impressed by the Golem's cooking skills, instructs him to continue making latkes while she pops out to gossip with her friend. Just for a minute, you understand. The Golem, true to his clay-for-brains form, makes latkes enough to fill the streets of Prague. When Rabbi Judah finally commands him to stop there are enough latkes to have what is essentially a city-wide latke block party -- for eight days. The story ends on the anticipatory high note while Basha contemplates if the Golem may also be skilled in the art of making hamantaschen for Purim.

I'm not an expert on either the Golem or on Jewish narratives so I will not make any authoritative statements about whether or not Rudolf II would actually attend a Hanukkah party given by Rabbi Loew (although I believe he was rather cosmopolitan), or whether or not the Golem would be set to work making latkes in lieu of defending the Jewish ghettos. Not to mention: hello? where did all the potatoes come from? I'm sure there are many narratives and many incarnations of the Golem and his story, so why not have a little fun with it.

The Golem's Latkes is an exceptionally fun read aloud for the holiday. It's playful, quirky and fortunately Aaron Jasiski's Golem is more cute than he is creepy. The setting of medieval Prague can't be beat and I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't like to attend a party with limitless latkes and wagons full of sour cream.

Latkes: they bring people together.

Want More?
The Whole Megillah has a lightening fast pros and cons of the book.
The New York Times likens the book to Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Eric Kimmel has written loads of other books: find out about them on his website.

Big Kid says: Are you making latkes this year?
Little Kid says: This is the book about cookies.


Festive City: Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming

Lucille Clifton's Everett Anderson's Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming is a gentle little book about a young boy who eagerly awaits Christmas by observing all that is happening around him. For five days before Christmas, he watches the snow fall on the apartments below his 14th story window, looks in store windows, decorates his tree and enjoys a party. Clifton's touching poetry takes us into the young boys' inner life full of wonder and anticipation.

There are a lot of little urban details in this lovely book that city dwellers will appreciate, although the story is easily enjoyed by everyone, no matter where they live. Everett's mom gives a party, which Everett subtly lets us know his downstairs neighbors did not appreciate. There is the careful activity of getting a tree into an elevator and playing in snow covered playgrounds. Jan Spivey Gilchrist's illustrations have a dreamy feel, which is well fitted to Clifton's poetry. Ultimately, however, this is not a book about the city, but about a wide-eyed, observant and well-loved boy.

I found Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming to be a special little book. Written in 1971 and republished in the 1990s, it's now out of print, but if it's in your library's catalog, I recommend checking it out.

Want More?
Read about Lucille Clifton.
Clifton wrote several other "Everett Anderson's" books you could search out.
When winter is done, read Clifton's The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring, which I reviewed here.

Big Kid says: When are we getting a tree?
Little Kid says: He wants that bicycle.


Festive City: Christmastime in New York City

The title of Roxie Munro's Christmastime in New York City is self-explanatory. Colorful illustrations of popular New York City Christmas attractions are accompanied only by labels. Despite its simplicity both my boys enjoy looking at the illustrations and talking about what they have seen and what they want to see during the holiday season -- so I thought I'd include it on this blog.

If you live in or love NYC, you might enjoy this book, too.

Want More:
Roxie Munro's Inside-Outside book series includes the cities Paris, London, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: Grandma and Grandpa took me to FAO Schwartz once.
Little Kid says: Can we see that?


Soaring City: The Little Reindeer

When I read the jacket blurb about the author of The Little Reindeer living in England I was so excited that this might be a city book set in an English city! Sadly, no. The book is set in New York City. Not that NYC isn't terrific. It is, but there is such an abundance of city-themed books set in NYC and such a dearth of picture books set in English cities (at least that I can find) that I could not help but be disappointed.

However, once I started to read the book I got over my disappointment quite quickly. So don't let the choice of settings deter you from picking up this book to read over the holiday season, for the illustrations are spectacular and the story lovely.

When a curious little reindeer investigates the bustling activity in the toy workshop, he finds himself accidentally wrapped up as a gift and delivered to a snowy city rooftop. A young boy finds and cares for the little reindeer. Together they eat peanut butter sandwiches and watch the city activity from the rooftops with the pigeons. When the little reindeer discovers he can fly, he and the boy begin to venture farther and farther from home, discovering the joys of soaring above the city at night. However, both the boy and the little reindeer realize that the fate of a flying reindeer is bigger than just one metropolis and one special morning, the boy wakes to sleigh tracks, jingle bells on pigeons and a note from an important man.

Foreman's watercolors are spectacular and gorgeous. As we spend the action of the book above the city over the course of a year, the mood of the book is serene. There are some intriguing surprises, however. Billboards play an unusual role and one cannot help but notice the abundance of water towers. Pigeons are delightful instead of a nuisance. It all makes one want to climb to the nearest rooftop and wait for one's own reindeer to arrive.

The Little Reindeer is a lovely story of friendship and devotion to share this holiday season (or anytime, really). Read it.

Want More?
Learn about the author.
Read an interview at Paper Tigers.
Apparently there was an animated short based on the book.

Big Kid says: I love that book.
Little Kid says: Mommy, look! Taxis!


Turkey City: The Money We'll Save

Last year I rounded up a number of Christmas-in-the-City books and will be doing the same this December. My first selection is brand-new to the shelves and quite a treat: Brock Cole's old-fashioned, humorous tale The Money We'll Save.

With all the children busy with their chores, Ma must send Pa to the grocer's with a list. When she gives the warning, "Christmas is not far off, and we must save every penny," Pa returns with a young turkey for the family to fatten up for Christmas dinner. "Think of the money we'll save!" he proudly declares. As you might imagine, raising Alfred (as the turkey is now called) is no simple matter. The family experiments with creative ways to keep Alfred from overrunning the apartment, all to humorous effect. Mrs. Schumacher, the neighbor, makes a cameo now and then to complain about the noise and compounding chaos but the family's attachment to Alfred grows and they simply cannot eat him for dinner. What will they do?

Cole's quirky, touching and lively story, set in a nineteenth century tenement apartment, is full of surprises. Other than a few scenes at the market, the action of the story takes place in the family's apartment (or on the fire escape!), emphasizing the intimate nature of the story. End papers show a bevy of hanging laundry in a group of tenement buildings. But while these are people who hang, rather than send their laundry we are never allowed to get bogged down with heavy handed ideas about poverty and hardship. Rather, the lively and appealing illustrations carry us along a wave of joyful, creative and enthusiastic problem solving!

A truly enjoyable holiday read.

Want More?
Read a review at Waking Brain Cells.
Book Aunt looks at some other Brock Cole books.
I'm guessing you'll see this book reviewed several times in the next few weeks!

Many thanks to the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux, for kindly providing me with a review copy.
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