Rooted in Jewish folklore and set in Prague, this retelling of a 16th-century legend about a ruler obsessed with alchemy and a rabbi who works magic says much about Podwal's (The Book of Tens) ability to work creatively and respectfully within the folktale tradition. When the Jews of Prague face unbearable persecution, a rabbi reluctantly fashions a Golem, a giant made from mud; the rabbi knows of the Golem's potential for vast destruction, but the Jews need a protector. Both thought-provoking and mystical, this adaptation refuses to shy away from the story's darker aspects. The King's greed-driven madness and his exchanges with the rabbi, the afflictions of the Jews living in the ghetto, the desperate creation of the Golem and the ensuing violence are presented without apology. Rather, Podwal couches his narrative in tightly concentrated imagery. Trees are torn from their roots and tossed to the moon, an evil astrologer wears a silver nose, and the golem wears the ``emperor's palace on top of its head like a crown.'' Although dull brown tones dominate the jacket, the interior art is bright and jewel-toned-in many places the artwork possesses an almost Gauguin-like sunniness, a skillful counterpoint to the shadowy, mythic power of the text. Ages 5-up. (Oct.)
- Gretchen Hesbacher
A Golem, a giant made of mud, is not always the best protector in this haunting Jewish folk tale. The story begins in Prague many centuries ago. Through various circumstances, the emperor and the great rabbi of Prague become friends. They visit one another. The rabbi shows his beautiful home; the emperor shares his marvelous collections. As a gift, the emperor gives the rabbi a silver spoon with the power to create a Golem, a giant that can not always be controlled. When the emperor becomes distrustful of the world, he no longer protects the Jews from the people of Prague. The Jews are forced into a ghetto to live. The rabbi dreams of an angry mob attacking the ghetto, so he builds a Golem out of mud to protect the Jews. The angry mob turns against the ghetto, the Golem grows in size, and terror results. Only the prayers of the rabbi can stop the Golem's power. This beautifully illustrated, solemn tale portrays the turmoil in the lives of the Jews in the ghettos of Europe and how strength may not be as powerful as faith.
School Library Journal
Gr 3 UpThere have been many stories written about the golema creature formed from mud or clay in the likeness of man and brought to life by the name of God for the purpose of protecting the Jewish people from an enemy that would destroy them. In most of the tales, the golem, after fulfilling its purpose, goes wild, growing to an enormous size, and must be returned to the lump of clay from which it was made. Although Podwal's version has a historical setting, the inclusion of details culled from a number of golem stories and cabalistic writings is confusing and results in the lack of a strong plot. The stylized paintings are expertly rendered in gouache, colored pencil, and ink. They are garishly colored and feature a dream world of distorted, abstract buildings in which the rabbi and the emperor of the kingdom seem to be the only ``real'' entitiesperhaps indicating the ethereal nature of the tale. This is borne out in a final picture of the city showing a golem-shaped mountain, upon which the buildings have been reconstructed. Beverly McDermott's The Golem (HarperCollins, 1975; o.p.) tells the traditional story of the golem of Prague, resurrected by a wise and pious rabbi when the old rumors of the Jews using the blood of Christian children to bake their Passover matzoh filled him with fear for his people. She crafted her tale in the words of a storyteller and paired it with the powerful, vivid paintings of a master artist. Although neither book is meant for young children, McDermott's is more accessible.Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Drawing on Jewish legends of the golem of Prague, this picture book captures the shape-shifting creature in all its mystery. The story itself lacks a clear focus, perhaps because Podwal includes too much. He begins with the story of the foolish emperor of Prague who, like Midas, wants to turn iron into gold. Then the focus switches to the great rabbi who can perform miracles. From the mud of the river the rabbi creates the giant golem to protect the Jews from persecution. Reminiscent of Chagall, the folk-art illustrations of the medieval city express the magical transformation of the powerful giant that first comes to the aid of the Jews and then becomes a monster out of control.