It is 1595, and the rabbi’s son Jacob is frustrated with having to live in the walled ghetto known as Jewish Town. Why can’t he venture outside of the gates and explore the beautiful city? His father warns him that Passover is a dangerous time to be a Jew and that the people from outside accuse the Jews of dreadful deeds. But one night, Jacob follows his father and two companions as they unlock the ghetto gates and proceed to the river, where they mold a human shape from the mud of the riverbank. When the rabbi ...
It is 1595, and the rabbi’s son Jacob is frustrated with having to live in the walled ghetto known as Jewish Town. Why can’t he venture outside of the gates and explore the beautiful city? His father warns him that Passover is a dangerous time to be a Jew and that the people from outside accuse the Jews of dreadful deeds. But one night, Jacob follows his father and two companions as they unlock the ghetto gates and proceed to the river, where they mold a human shape from the mud of the riverbank. When the rabbi speaks strange words, the shape is infused with life and the Golem of Prague is born.
In this breathtaking retelling of a timeless tale, Irene N. Watts’s beautiful words are complemented by the haunting black-and-white images of artist Kathryn E. Shoemaker.
Folktale, historically rooted horror story, redemption parable, and the inspiration for Superman and other classic comic book superheroes: the centuries-old Jewish narrative of the golem has something for everyone. But readers would never guess it from Watts's (Good-bye Marianne) somber retelling. Her narrator is Jacob, the young, underachieving son of Rabbi Judah Loew, the spiritual leader of the 16th-century Prague ghetto. Jacob spies on his father as the rabbi turns red clay into a ponderous, mute giant, then tags along as the golem protects the community from anti-Semitic violence. The central incident rises out of the “Blood Lie,” in which Jews were accused of making Passover matzo from the blood of Christian children. By all rights, this should be a page-turner—it even has moments of comedy, mostly rooted in the premise that the golem will take orders from anyone, but can only be stopped by its master. But the passive, peripheral, and somewhat whiny Jacob never coalesces into an intriguing narrator or reader surrogate. Shoemaker's charcoal sketches, scattered throughout, are technically handsome, but do little to evoke a sense of the perilous times. Ages 9–up. (Nov.)
- Beverley Fahey
Under the cover of darkness thirteen-year-old Jacob secretly watches as his father, Rabbi Loew creates from the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water the enormous Golem. The mute giant, obedient only to the Rabbi, is formed to protect the Jews of the walled ghetto of sixteenth century Prague. Massive and powerful, the Golem named Josef guards the people from those who seek to poison, defame, and persecute the Jewish people who are forced to wear a yellow circle of cloth as identification—a prelude of days to come when the Jews of Europe have to wear the yellow Star of David. The Golem is instrumental in revealing the fallacy of the Blood Lie—that Jewish people used the blood of Christian children to make their matzos. Over a period of three years Jacob watches the soulless man he calls friend uncover plots against his people and thus win for the Jews the acceptance of the Emperor Rudolf II. When the time comes that Josef has completed his mission, the Rabbi and Jacob take him to a secret room where the Golem is returned to his silent sleep to await a day when he is needed once again. The familiar legend of the Golem is fully realized in this quiet retelling that breathes life into this forerunner of the superhero. The Golem's protective mission is completed and only when he becomes destructive does the Rabbi come to the realization that he must be returned from whence he came. Unlike David Wisniewski's handsomely illustrated The Golem, Clarion Books, 1996, this clay man is not as menacing and his "death" is more dignified. Charcoal sketches throughout depict a hulking figure of immense strength but with mournful eyes that reveal the sorrow within. There is room onlibrary shelves for both of these fine retellings. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
From the Publisher
Praise for Good-Bye Marianne: The Graphic Novel:
“Shoemaker’s style is gentle, quiet, shaded, and soft-edged. She filters the horrors, thus allowing some access to this world to quite young readers…. The particular appeal of Marianne’s story is that the ordinary woes of childhood — loneliness, boredom, betrayal by a friend — are in the foreground. In its graphic novel incarnation, the story retains this familiarity and welcomes a new crop of readers.”
— Quill & Quire
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—This account of the 16th-century legend is narrated by a rabbi's son, Jacob, who is frustrated by expectations that he follow in his father's and older brother's scholarly footsteps. However, everything changes when Jacob and his father dream the same dream and the rabbi creates a large clay man to protect the Jews of Prague. After a few mishaps, Josef, the golem, foils a baker's plan to poison the matzah, prevents a man from planting a child's body in the ghetto to prove that Jews use the blood of Christian children for their Passover preparations, and stops other plots and schemes. When Emperor Rudolf announces that the "Blood Lie" is false, Rabbi Loew is confident that the Jews are no longer in need of the golem's protection. He and Jacob take Josef to the attic of the Old-New Synagogue and change the Hebrew letters on his forehead from "emet" meaning truth to "met" meaning death. Shoemaker's pencil drawings are not as dramatic as Trina Schart Hyman's paintings in Barbara Rogasky's similarly formatted Golem: A Version (Holiday House, 1996). However, Watts's retelling is more fluid and not as graphic or violent. While unlikely to attract independent readers, this book would make for a powerful read-aloud and having a child as the narrator provides a different perspective than David Wisniewski's Golem (Clarion, 1996) and Mark Podwal's Golem: A Giant Made of Mud (HarperCollins, 1995).—Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL
German-born Irene N. Watts is a writer and playwright who has worked throughout Europe and Canada. Her play, “Lillie,” based on her novel Flower, won first prize in UNESCO’s Biennial Playwriting Award. Her novels Good-bye Marianne, Finding Sophie, and Remember Me, have had international acclaim. She makes her home by the sea in Vancouver.
Kathryn E. Shoemaker has illustrated over thirty children’s books and has written four books for teachers. Her work ranges from books, filmstrips, and greeting cards, to posters, calendars, and illustrations and articles for magazines. She is currently working on her doctorate degree. Kathryn Shoemaker lives in Vancouver.