Review: Such a Library!: A Yiddish Folktale Reimagined

Such a Library! A Yiddish Folktale Reimagined by Jill Ross Nadler, illustraed by Esther van den Berg 

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

Just as it says in its subtitle, Such a Library! is a reimagining of the old Yiddish folktale about a man whose house is too crowded. His rabbi’s solution? Make the house even more crowded. Then, when all the additional visitors leave, the house seems spacious by comparison.

Here, the librarian takes the place of the rabbi. A little boy, Stevie, complains that just the noise of the computer keys and the voice of the storyteller are too loud. When he uses metaphors (“it’s like a zoo in here!” ;“it’s like a circus in here!”), the punnily named librarian Miss Understood takes him literally, opens an apparently magic book, and releases the denizens of a zoo, a circus and so forth. When they are finally returned to the pages of their book, the boy appreciates the relative silence.

This is a charming story and the fact that the new, noisy inhabitants come to life from a book is a particularly nice touch for a story set in a library. The original folktale is included in the front matter, which I appreciated.

As the author notes in the back matter, nothing in this reimagining is explicitly Jewish - except for a Chasidic patron/trapeze artist and a bearded man whose clothing appears to date to the shtetl in the illustrations. There are no Yiddish or Hebrew words. Even the names are not particularly Jewish.

The author also points out in the back matter that the theme and lesson of the story - be happy with what you have - are Jewish as well. But without reading the back matter (and so many people don’t!), the audience would not know that.

The lack of explicit Jewish content may make the story more accessible to a wider audience (although I’m not necessarily convinced) but conversely may render it ineligible for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. This one is a close call.

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Reviewer Rachel J Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband two daughters, ages 15 and 12, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. When she is not reading, she loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.