Kib­itzers and Fools: Tales My Zay­da Told Me

Simms Taback
  • Review
By – August 6, 2012

Simms Taback’s pic­ture book, Joseph Had a Lit­tle Over­coat, is a favorite of many and Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award and Calde­cott win­ner besides, so his lat­est cre­ation will be greet­ed with enthu­si­asm. In most respects, it does not dis­ap­point. Taback wrote and illus­trat­ed this zany, clever col­lec­tion of sto­ries, say­ings, and jokes. Among the 13 tales, you’re sure to find a vari­a­tion of a sto­ry you already know. Per­haps it’s a Chelm sto­ry about which side to but­ter your bread (“A Philo­soph­i­cal Debate”) or the one about the rab­bi who answers dif­fi­cult ques­tions while he’s stand­ing on his head (“An Impor­tant Ques­tion”). Oth­er famil­iar sto­ries include If I Were Rock­e­feller” and The Restau­rant.” For all the sto­ries’ poten­tial to delight read­ers, the book is def­i­nite­ly a case of old tales dressed up in new clothes. There is no infor­ma­tion about the sources of the sto­ries, many of which appear in oth­er col­lec­tions. All are sprin­kled with a gen­er­ous help­ing of Yid­dish words and expres­sions. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many of the Yid­dish words in the glos­sary have incor­rect def­i­n­i­tions. In addi­tion, the Yid­dish is writ­ten in Eng­lish translit­er­a­tion. Hebrew char­ac­ters, at least in the glos­sary, would have been desirable. 

The strength of Taback’s work lies in his art. Like the best folk art, the illus­tra­tions are col­or­ful, expres­sive, and filled with clever jokes and sur­pris­es. For exam­ple, books fill the rabbi’s study to over­flow­ing. The Book of Most Often Asked Ques­tions” lies open on his messy desk. In anoth­er clever touch, a sign­post in Chelm states, You are leav­ing Chelm. Gey Guzundt.” Nu, the wit is obvious. 

Aside from the few crit­i­cisms expressed above, Kib­itzers and Fools is an attrac­tive and acces­si­ble col­lec­tion for read­ers of all ages. Taback quotes a Yid­dish say­ing: It is eas­i­er to be a crit­ic than an author.” Who am I to dis­agree? Ages 5 to 12.

Anne Dublin is the teacher-librar­i­an at Holy Blos­som Tem­ple in Toron­to, Cana­da and an award-win­ning author of books for chil­dren and young adults. Her lat­est book is June Call­wood: A Life of Action (Sec­ond Sto­ry Press, 2006).

Discussion Questions