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by Steve Sanfield & illustrated by Emily Lisker

Age Range: 4 - 7

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-531-06879-X
Publisher: Orchard

 A tale about Chelm--a town celebrated in Jewish folklore for the legendary idiocy of its inhabitants. Zaynul, a poor teacher, and Zeitel, his wife, decide to save money to buy the ingredients for apple strudel--each agrees to deposit a zloty a week into a trunk. But when after a few months they open the trunk, it turns out (in a kind of inversion of O. Henry's ``The Gift of the Magi'') that neither of them has put in any money, each counting on the other's contributions. They start arguing and fall into the trunk. The lid shuts, the trunk rolls out of their house, and, in the climactic scene of the story, down the hill--crashing through everything, with a crowd following--into the middle of the marketplace, where it comes to a stop. After the incident, the Wise Men of Chelm pass a law regarding teachers, trunks, and apple strudel. The narration and dialogue have many colorful details--some funnier than others. On the whole, the story is written in such a way that, were it read out loud, an Eastern European accent would not sound inappropriate. The best thing about this book are Lisker's oils (one per page of text). Recalling Chagall's painting of shtetl life, they combine brightness and softness and a floating perspective, and depict a world of little houses, bald men with big beards, women with kerchiefs, cows and goats, chickens and dogs. These pictures are suffused with loving warmth; it's impossible not to linger over them. A uniquely funny book. (Picture book/folklore. 4-7)