On this visit to Chelm, which in Jewish folklore is the hotbed for all things silly, readers meet Shlomo and Rivka, a kindly couple who have "five children, twelve scrawny hens, one rooster and not much money." Yearning for a little milk and cheese and unable to afford a cow, Shlomo engages in some magical thinking of the animal husbandry kind. Since cows eat grass, he reasons, "...if we feed grass to our hens, they will still lay eggs, but they will also give us milk." With help from six-year-old Tova, their brightest child ("bright" being a relative term in Chelm), the addlepated rabbi of Chelm, and plenty of skewed logic, everyone ends up a winner—including the beleaguered hens. It's easy for Chelm stories to feel by-the-numbers or condescending toward their characters, but Stuchner (Josephine's Dream) and Weissman (Mom, the School Flooded) never fall into that trap. They forgo dwelling on Chelm's backstory, letting the goofy events speak for themselves through brisk, almost reportorial storytelling and genial cartooning. It's the literary equivalent of a merry wink—which is just what this genre needed. Ages 4–8. (May)
"Weissmann's drawings fill in the humorous details of the poor simple farm folk, their sparse farm and their peculiar ideas. This story would make a good readaloud with its large full colour pictures and expressive characters...Highly recommended."
Canadian Children's Book News
"Stuchner has written a comical tale that will entertain young readers from beginning to end. They will be amused by Schlomo's grand schemes and be engaged by Tova's problem-solving skills...Weissmann uses acrylics to create his cartoon-like characters, which contribute greatly to the absurdity of the situation."
Puget Sound Council for Reviewing Children's Media
"A fun story with impossible solutions."
The Horn Book Guide
"Colorful cartoon-style illustrations of Old World scenes underscore the humor."
Jewish Book World
"A brand new, old-fashioned folktale straight from the town of Chelm. And what a delightful tale it is!...Tova finally brings in the Rabbi from Chelm and he helps solve the mystery in a way that is udderly hysterical. Children will enjoy watching this family try to do the impossible...The delightful illustrations...add to the humor and enjoyment. This is an excellent story."
Midwest Book Review
"A hilarious tale of residents of the mythical village of Chelm...Ethnic humor and didactic storytelling at its silliest and finest."
Southwest Ohio and Neighboring Libraries (SWON)
"This humorous little folktale will have young listeners giggling. Children will relate to Tova, the young heroine in the story, as she tries to help her parents to solve a big problem...Adults will also get a little giggle out of the story, as well. Read and be prepared to actually laugh out loud."
Library Media Connection
"Colorful paintings are reminiscent of folk art and provide a view of a traditional Jewish family...This book can be used to stimulate discussion about cultural stories and humor."
Cracking the Cover blog
"A charming story that not only exposes children to another culture but to animals as well. Problem-solving Tova is an excellent role model and her creative father is an excellent foil. Bright colors and lively illustrations bring the text to life as this lovable family dreams of milk and cheese."
Quill & Quire
"The tone of Joan Betty Stuchner's tale is cheerful, but the delivery is appropriately straight-faced. The effect is gently teasing but never unkind. Joe Weissmann's expressive illustrations complement this lighthearted style and paint a comic portrait of Schlomo and his family...There will be ample pleasure in predicting the outcome of the family's antics or just enjoying this simple tale that celebrates silliness."
"What is charming about this tale is that the reader knows from the very beginning that chickens do not give milk and cows do not lay eggs. For Shlomo to try to make this happen is impossible. The fun is watching him try. Joe Weissmann's illustrations are hilarious and add to the understanding of the story. This book is easy to follow even as the problem escalates to the ridiculous. Shlomo is a loveable fool, and Tova, his daughter, is a girl who is a deep thinker who cannot figure out the obvious. The ending will make everyone smile. Recommended."
"Weissmann's naive-style cartoons emphasize the endearing but clueless characters and are perfectly suited to Stuchner's absurd text (relayed matter-of-factly, allowing listeners to savor their superior knowledge)...Children will especially enjoy the hilarious ending."
"A funny story with loads of silly ideas...The art work [is] rich in colors and [goes] well with the storyline."
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
In the fabled town of Chelm, everyone is a fool or a noodlehead but secretly thinks themselves a genius. Shlomo and Rivka and their family of five children live on a small, well-kept farm with a dozen chickens. Looking for some breakfast variety, Shlomo dreams of owning a cow, but cows are expensive! So Shlomo tries to come up with a way for chickens to give milk as well as lay eggs. The couple's six year old daughter, with the wisdom of a Chelmite, suggests feeding chickens grass which will lead to them giving milk. The confused chickens don't give milk, but stop laying eggs as well. Looking under the chickens, Shlomo discovers that the hens have no udders, so clearly they are not "milk-giving" chickens. Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds, but with wonderfully comic pictures and the unwavering illogic of Chelm, young listeners will understand the convoluted thinking that makes all "fools of Chelm" stories a delight. Shlomo's revelation about the milk-giving chickens comes in a dream making the obvious comparison to Tevye the Milkman. In the traditional manner, the wisest rabbi in the village solves the problem by swapping a milk-giving goat for some of Shlomo's chickens but there is a punchline that is pure foolishness and a great finish to the story. The happy family is rosy-cheeked and neatly dressed, but clearly observant Jews according to their style of dress. This is a winning folktale well told with humor, rhythm, and a real ending (which some Chelm tales lack). All that's missing is the Klezmer band! Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 3—Nonsense rules the roost in this tale set in the mythical village of Chelm. Schlomo and Rivka live on a farm with their five children and brood of chickens. One day Rivka expresses her wish for fresh milk and cheese, and that night Schlomo dreams about grazing cows. He tells six-year-old Tova about his dream and she deduces that if cows give milk because they eat grass hens will do the same if they eat grass, instead of grain. When they feed grass to their hens and no milk comes forth, Tova calls on the wise rabbi, who examines the hens and declares that they are regular chickens and not milk hens. Needing eggs of his own, he exchanges his goat and rooster for six of their hens. The goat gives milk, the hens return to their old ways, and the family is content— until Schlomo realizes that the goat is larger than the hens and falls asleep dreaming of the goat eating a mountain of grain and laying an enormous egg. Clever dialogue and zany characters lend a strong sense of storytelling to this tale. The family is lovingly portrayed, and Stuchner's comic, folksy text begs to be shared with groups. Weissmann's acrylic illustrations depict idyllic country scenes and extend the humor. With its silly characters and situations, this humorous tale will attract children like a chicken on a june bug.—Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI
An original tale takes readers to that nexus of foolishness, the village of Chelm. Shlomo and Rivka have "five children, twelve scrawny hens, one rooster and not much money." So they use simple logic: A cow gives milk because she eats grass, so if they feed grass to their hens, the hens will give milk. This is, of course, a Chelm story. Chelm, for those who don't know, is a village from Jewish folktales, populated by the most foolish people in the world. Stuchner is completely at home with the almost-logic of Chelm. (It may seem paradoxical to write a new traditional folktale, but it's very much in the spirit of Chelm.) As in the best of the traditional stories, every step of the villagers' thought process makes perfect sense. Readers might even find themselves thinking, "Why shouldn't hens give milk? It's only fair." Children will have a great time looking for the flaw in the argument. There are a few lulls, but Stuchner carries the gag through to a very amusing last page, in which Shlomo imagines a goat trying to hatch an enormous egg. Weissman's illustrations help to sell the joke: The goat just looks so content up there on top of her egg. The story is so successful in making the absurd seem obvious that readers may wonder why they didn't think of it themselves. (Picture book. 4-8)
"This addition to the canon has all the delicious deadpan of the old [Chelm] tales, as well as their familiar population of hilarious idiots. Literary idiots make powerless little readers feel powerful, and smart."
Children's Literature - Kristi Bernard
Can hens give milk? Well, that is a very good question. Shlomo and his family live in a small Jewish town known as Chelm. He has a wife and five children. Shlomo has cravings and dreams of milk and cheese, but they have no cow to give them what they crave. Shlomo has an idea and with the help of his daughter, Tova, they concoct a way to get their hens to produce milk. They figure if cows eat grass and produce milk that hens will do the same if they eat grass instead of grain. Again, Shlomo has his dream of milk and cheese. When he awakes there is still no milk from the hens. The family then rolls the grass into pellets and puts them into the mouths of the hens. The hens did not like this at all, especially since their favorite food is grain that they like to peck and eat. This is quite a conundrum for the family, since the pellets did not seem to work on the hens, who by the way have stopped laying eggs. Now the family has no milk, cheese, or eggs. Will this disillusioned family ever get their eggs back and finally get the milk and cheese they crave? With the help of the Rabbi maybe or maybe not. This delightful Jewish folktale will have young readers giggling and wondering why this unique little family thinks they can get milk from hens. Simple sentences and colorful illustrations make this tale a fun read. This story is also a great way to teach children about different cultures and religions. Reviewer: Kristi Bernard
Read an Excerpt
Tova rushed into her parents' room. "What's wrong, Papa?"
"Let me ask you a question," said Shlomo. "Why does a cow give milk?"
"Everyone knows that, Papa. A cow gives milk because she eats grass."
Shlomo and Rivka beamed at their youngest daughter.
"What a wise child you are," said Shlomo. "So if we feed grass to our hens, they will still lay eggs, but they will also give us milk."
"Shlomo," said Rivka, "you are a genius."
"I am indeed," said Shlomo, and he blushed.