Gershon's Monster: A Story for the Jewish New Year

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Kimmel's crisp but lyrical retelling of this early Hasidic legend has a steady pace and mounting tension that makes this a text certain to receive heavy use as a readaloud or told story, but it is as a readalone that this title will have the greatest impact. Muth's watercolors add a powerful emotional subtext to this already moving tale. The visual characterization of Gershon, in prayer shawl and yarmulke, sweeping his impish misdeeds into the cellar has both pathos and humor; the subtle palette (pale blue, sandy brown, creamy yellow) is clean and evocative, providing a peaceful background against which the protagonist, dressed in black, contrasts with a solid power. The compositions are elegantly arranged, whether featuring close-ups of Gershon's emotional reactions or showing his small figure in black coat and hat dragging a huge sackful of sins to the sea. The monstrous result of Gershon's negligence is appropriately horrific (some readers may be reminded of Brinton Turkle's nightmare in Do Not Open, BCCB 12/18) as it looms over the beach, blotting out the light of the blue summer sky. Muth's illustrations for Come On, Rain! (BCCB 4/99) revealed him to be an artist of exceptional skill at visual interpretation of text; this title will ensure that reputation. An author's note gives background on the story and the Jewish traditions from which it comes." JMD
--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2000, starred review

"This presentation of a Hasidic legend has everything a reader could want: a suspenseful story, an insightful lesson and brilliant pictures that accelerate the delivery of both. Centra to the plot is the custom of tashlikh, the ritual casting of sins into the water on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Gershon the baker, "not always the best person he could be," begins to rely on this practice as a way of dealing with his mistakes: instead of apologizing and making amends, he sweeps his thoughtless deeds into the cellar every Friday and, on Rosh Hashanah, he stuffs them into a sack, drags it to the sea and tosses it in. Of course, he will learn true repentance--but not before he receives a cryptic prophecy from a sage and, much later, faces down the sea monster his sins have created. Relegating words like tashlikh to a meaty author's note (which also describes Jewish principles of t'shuvah, or repentance), Kimmel (Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins) uses everyday language, letting the moral shine through his astute storytelling. The airy watercolor illustrations, loaded with period detail, transcend the particularities of the setting by virtue of Muth's (Come on Rain!) expansive imaginative vision. He enhances the comedy in the premise by painting the sins as tiny horned imps who jeer as they face Gershon's broom (they grow a bit nastier as the story advances), yet he leaves room for a humane depiction of Gershon, more self-absorbed than wicked, and for a psychologically canny and dramatic portrayal of the monster. A memorable work, welcome at any time of year."
--Publishers Weekly, August 28, 2000 starred review.

"Kimmel is ably served by illustrator Muth, whose soft colored blues, grays, and beiges bring alive the watery landscape of Constantsa on the Black Sea in this quietly moralistic Hasidic tale. Muth uses the same gentleness that made Come On Rain (rev.7/99) so appealing, yet here his washes of color create a range of moods, from indifference to anger, from terror to calm. With confidence, Kimmel retells the story of Gershon, "not always the best person he could be,' who "shed(s] Ws mistakes and thoughtless acts like a dug sheds hair." Muth envisions these mistakes as tiny, inky gray monsters, which Gershon sweeps tip and pitches into the cellar. In several dynamic spreads, the black-hatted and suited Gershon bundles up these mischievous-looking. misdeeds and drags them, stuffed in a massive sack, down to the

Children's Literature
Gershon and his wife live on the shores of the Black Sea "many years ago" in this retelling of a very old Hasidic legend. Gershon has made mistakes in his life, but never regretted or apologized. He has simply swept the bad deeds into the cellar. Once a year, on Rosh Hashanah, he bags them and tosses them into the sea. But "there is always a price to pay." When Gershon and his wife finally have the twin children they have wanted for so long, he is warned that he will lose them because of his thoughtlessness. A monster from the sea threatens the children, so Gershon offers himself instead, finally sorry for his wickedness. Spared, he leads a better life in the future. The author's note explains the relationship of the story to the Jewish New Year theme of repentance. Muth's jacket/cover sets up the ethical struggle. A properly bearded Gershon, all in black, drags a huge sack down a deserted beach, a bag crawling with cavorting little black demons. Full page, naturalistic watercolors depict Gershon's activities and moods as he goes about his selfish business. As the children play on the beach, the frightening waterborne monster is effectively thrust into our faces before we reach the compassionate blue sky of the end. 2000, Scholastic Press. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4-In this retelling of a Hasidic legend, the baker Gershon never repents for any of his wrongdoings. Instead, on Rosh Hashanah, he gathers them together and throws them into the sea. When he and his wife seek help for their childlessness, Gershon visits a tzaddik, or "wonder rabbi." The rabbi writes a charm and tells the man it will bring him and his wife twins but due to his careless acts they will die on their fifth birthday. When the day arrives, Gershon is able to save his children from the monster created by his sins by truly repenting. Despite its obvious moral, the story flows well, and Kimmel's language glows, while retaining the flavor of a traditional tale. The watercolor illustrations work well, with the baker's sins represented as small, black, ghoulish monsters and the beast created from the sum of his misdeeds as a looming, serpentine sea monster. Muth brings Gershon to life with a truly human expressiveness. The characters are depicted with the traditional Hasidic side curls and tallith hanging out of their shirts, rooting them firmly in the Jewish tradition. Kimmel's light hand makes the lessons easy to take, and despite repetitions of the message, the telling remains an enjoyable read.-Amy Lilien-Harper, Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
New York Times Book Review
This Hasidic story of how the baker learns t'shuvah -- repentance -- is beautifully told and illustrated.
Kirkus Reviews
Kimmel (Kimmelman, Leslie DANCE, SING, REMEMBER: A Celebration of Jewish Holidays Illus. by Ora Eitan HarperCollins (48 pp.) Oct. 31, 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439108393
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Series: Gershon's Monster
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 533,102
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.26 (w) x 11.57 (h) x 0.35 (d)

Meet the Author


Jon J Muth has written and illustrated many enchanting picture books, including his Caldecott Honor Book ZEN SHORTS and its sequel, the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling picture book ZEN TIES. Other beloved titles from Jon include THE THREE QUESTIONS, GERSHON'S MONSTER by Eric Kimmel, and THE CHRISTMAS MAGIC by Lauren Thompson. Muth lives in upstate New York with his wife and five children.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2003

    Be prepared for a discussion.

    We have had this book for several years and every year I read it to my children. The discussions that follow are always insightful. This book helps the children understand why simply throwing bread into the water is not enough and why asking for forgiveness, which is not always easy for a child or an adult, is even more important. This book can be slightly scary for a child under the age of 6.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2000

    A great book for children about repentance

    I read this to my 7-year-old daughter and she loves it. This is a fine book that will be read in our family for years to come.

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