by David Wisniewski
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Book list Rogasky: Gr. 4^-6, younger for reading aloud; Wisniewski: Gr. 3^-6. Drawing on Jewish legends, two very different versions tell the story of the giant monster of sixteenth-century Prague, created by the holy Rabbi Loew from the clay of the river to help protect his people in the ghetto against racist persecution. Rogasky tells it in 13 expansive chapters, with a colloquial warmth and a Yiddish idiom ("Why? Who knows why?" ) that makes you read it aloud. There's terror when the Poles come after the Jews, especially when they accuse the Jews of killing children to drink the blood, a lie used for centuries to fuel anti-Semitism. In a foreshadowing of the Holocaust, the evil priest Thaddeus, being led away to prison, curses the Jews ("I will return and you will not recognize me . . . I will tell the same lies . . . You will burn, burn as if in the ovens of hell" ); a picture of the gates of Auschwitz ends the chapter. Some of the plotting and counterplotting gets convoluted. But the terror is framed by the rabbi's wise control and by uproarious episodes of domestic farce when the golem takes his household orders literally. Hyman's illustrations in shades of brown and blue, some tall and full-page, some small and unframed, reveal the ordinary and the mysterious in the ghetto community. From the rabbi in his library among his piles of books to the golem rampaging through the streets of Prague, there is a depth of perspective, an expressive sense of character, and an exquisite detail of line. Both author and illustrator provide endnotes about sources in Jewish mysticism and history. Wisniewski's large picture-book version is stark and terrifying. His extraordinary cut-paper collages show and tell the shape-shifting and changing perspectives that are the essence of the story. Chanting spells from the holy books of the Cabala, the rabbi creates the giant, whose task is to protect the Jews and catch those planting false evidence of the Blood Lie. When the mob storms the gates of the ghetto, the golem is a huge Frankenstein monster who smashes the people and their weapons. But Wisniewski adds an element of melancholy to the creature (just as Mary Shelley did). This golem can talk, and when his work is done, he begs to be allowed to go on living. The pictures of the desperate giant trying to prevent his hands and face from dissolving are scenes of horror and sorrow. Wisniewski ends with a long, detailed background note about the religious roots and folklore and about the history of Jewish persecution through the ages. --Hazel Rochman

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

School Library Journal Gr 3 Up?Wisniewski's retelling of the golem legend varies only slightly from the traditional version recounted by Beverly McDermott in The Golem (HarperCollins, 1975; o.p.). It is the tale of a clay giant formed in the image of man to protect the Jewish people of medieval Prague from destruction by their enemies. His master, the chief rabbi of Prague in the late 16th century, was a highly regarded Cabbalist (a mystic). In this telling, the golem speaks with the simplicity of a child (In many versions he is mute), and he is destroyed when the emperor guarantees the safety of the Jewish people. (Traditionally, the golem goes berserk and must be returned to the earth.) A lengthy note explains the idea of the Golem and details Jewish persecution throughout history. Wisniewski has used layers of cut paper to give depth to his illustrations, many of which have a three-dimensional appearance. A wispy layer, which begins as the vapor of creation, becomes smoke from torches carried by an angry mob of armed silhouette people and horses. The colors are browns and grays of the earth, sunrise mauve, and the pumpkin and burnt orange of fire and sunset. Skillful use of perspective enhances the Golem's immense size. While the plot is stronger than in Mark Podwal's retelling (Greenwillow, 1995), Wisniewski's text lacks the power and child appeal of McDermott's spare, well-crafted tale. Still, collections wanting another edition of the story might consider this one.?Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH

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Publishers Weekly Elaborately composed cut-paper spreads give a 3D, puppet-show-like quality to a retelling of a Jewish legend. Rabbi Loew has a prophetic vision in 1580 when the Jews of Prague are accused of mixing the blood of Christian children into matzoh: he must create a Golem, "a giant of living clay, animated by Cabala, mystical teachings of unknown power." Brought to life with apocalyptic explosions of steam and rain, the Golem seeks out the perpetrators of the Blood Lie and turns them over to the authorities. Thwarted, the enraged enemies of the Jews storm the gates of the ghetto, but the Golem grows to enormous height and violently defeats them with their own battering ram. Once his work is done, he pitifully (and futilely) begs the Rabbi: "Please let me live! I did all that you asked of me! Life is so... precious... to me!" Wisniewski (The Wave of the Sea Wolf) emphasizes the Golem's humanity and the problems with his existence; instead of reducing the legend to a tale of a magical rescuer, the author allows for its historical and emotional complexity. The fiery, crisply layered paper illustrations, portraying with equal drama and precision the ornamental architecture of Prague and the unearthly career of the Golem, match the specificity and splendor of the storytelling. An endnote about the history and influence of the legend is particularly comprehensive. Ages 6-10. (Oct.)

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