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Showing posts with label Yiddish Folktales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yiddish Folktales. Show all posts

2.27.2012

It Could Always be Worse (1976)


Retold and Illustrated by Margot Zemach

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

This is a funny one, reads just like a well-told, well-timed joke, building and building until the release of the perfect punchline.

I suppose the subtitle, "A Yiddish Folktale," should have clued me in, but nonetheless, I did not at first realize that this was meant to be a humorous tale. I really thought I was going to be reading an overwrought tale of the suffering of a large Jewish family. The pages are filled with wonderful - yet garish - details, fighting, arguing, bare-bottomed babies toppling bowls. The patriarch of the chaotic family is only ever referred to as a "poor, unfortunate man." He does the only thing he knows to do - go to the rabbi and plead for some holy advice. So far, so desolate.

However, the rabbi's advice is rather peculiar. His solution to the overcrowding seems to be inviting the chickens to live in the house as well!

This does not at first appear to be the best idea in the world. In fact, as one would predict it only adds to the mayhem, and Zemach's chaotic illustrations add to this.

Three times the poor, unfortunate man comes to the rabbi, and three times the rabbi's advice is the same, adding more and more farm animals to the melee.

~


"Now with the crying and quarreling, with the honking, clucking,
and crowing, there are feathers in the soup! Rabbi, it couldn't be worse!"
"Tell me, do you happen to have a goat?"

~

And now with goats.

~


And now with cows.

Finally, exasperated, on the verge of a mental breakdown, the man once again journeys to the rabbi, imploring with him for some solution, any solution, the barest tidbit of halfway decent advice, anything! "The end of the world has come!" he in fact shrieks.

As you may perhaps have been able to predict, the Rabbi, in his esteemed wisdom, now commands his devoted follower to release the animals back outside. To this, the poor unfortunate man is only too eager to comply.


"Holy Rabbi, you have made life sweet for me.
It's so quiet, so roomy, so peaceful... What a pleasure!"

 Cue drumroll and cymbal clash. The subtitle of the book is, "A Yiddish folk tale," but I didn't find any more information on the history or age of this particular tale, or how it came to become a part of Margot Zemach's storytelling arsenal, but it seems a real natural story to be adapted visually. Every page is filled with movement and a hundred details, with the final image of the snoozing, slumbering household one of satisfying tranquility.
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