Kopecks for Blintzes

illus. by Susan Batori. 32p. ebook available. Kar-Ben. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781467779852; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781467779876.
PreS-Gr 2—This story is based on a Jewish folktale of Chelm, the town of wise fools. Poor Yankl and Gitele can't afford to make blintzes, a traditional treat for the holiday of Shavuot. They agree to put aside a kopeck (Polish coin) each day until they have enough, but each spouse assumes that the other is doing so and holds back his or her own cash. A slapstick ending ensues, with an argument, a wild ride down the hill in a wheeled trunk, and the rabbi's wisely foolish new commandments against living on hills, making blintzes, or owning wheeled trunks. This story must have seemed hilarious back in the shtetl, but the new version falls somewhat flat. Contrary to today's storytelling tastes, Yankl and Gitele are not very sympathetic characters and they gain nothing from their experience. The foolishness of the Chelmites includes superstition about dybuks, a foreign concept for the modern era. Readers learn little about blintzes and less about Shavuot. And the family never does make blintzes, having to eat them at the rabbi's house instead. The illustrations are cartoony and comical, befitting the mood of the story, but there is one problematic element. The rabbi is frequently portrayed wearing not only a kippah (Jewish skullcap) but also a flowing headdress that appears to be a prayer shawl worn keffiyeh-style. Jews in Eastern Europe did not wear such headgear, especially outside the synagogue. The author's note misses the opportunity to talk about blintzes or Shavuot, focusing only on the folklore of Chelm. In addition, the source of the folktale is never credited.
VERDICT Barbara Diamond Goldin's A Mountain of Blintzes is a more positive Shavuot story based on the same folktale.

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