Review: Too Many Golems

Too Many Golems

by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Maya Shleifer

Chronicle Books, 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Claire Freeland

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The set-up for this appealing story about golems is that the Rabbi’s son, Abi, in his obliviousness, gets in trouble repeatedly. When he takes an old, tattered scroll from the synagogue basement, he innocently practices the words…sings the words…reads the words…and, fourth time being the charm, summons not one, but ten golems. So, what to do? He does what every well-taught rabbi’s son does: he welcomes the stranger(s). The golems tell him they are there to fight on his behalf. Abi asks them for help in his losing battle with Hebrew. The golems end up tutoring Abi weekly in Hebrew while throwing in some golem songs and stories as well. Years later, Abi’s Hebrew at his Bar Mitzvah is stellar. The golems are as proud as could be. Now that Abi doesn’t need them anymore, the golems slip away. Back matter addresses the origin of the golem legend as well as an interpretation that golem stories can give us courage and hope.

Too Many Golems is written by the incomparable Jane Yolen, who infuses this story, based on Jewish folklore, with humor and heart. Some young children may be concerned about the golems coming into Abi’s house, but they will learn about these clay figures and come to understand that they are only there to help. Older children might especially appreciate the struggle to learn Hebrew. Illustrator Maya Shleifer’s pictures give this folktale a contemporary vibe. She creates impressive movement and expression with a bright palate and delightful detail. 

The story and illustrations are filled with Jewish content. Rabbis, Hebrew class, synagogue and shul, a cat named Kibbitz, various Judaica, and davening are some of the Jewish vocabulary. Although the story is decidedly Jewish, the universal themes will appeal to all. It certainly qualifies for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. 

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Reviewer Claire Freeland is a Baltimore, Maryland based children's book writer. She has co-authored seven books, published by Magination Press, that guide children and teens in new ways of thinking about feelings and behaviors, and introduce the science of psychology. Her current work focuses on Jewish-themed board and picture books.