The Demons' Mistake: A Story from Chelm

Francine Prose, Author, Mark H. Podwal, Illustrator Greenwillow Books $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-688-17565-8
Expert at refashioning Jewish folktales, Prose (previously paired with Podwal for The Angel's Mistake: Stories of Chelm) invents one just right for contemporary audiences. The story begins in Chelm, the legendary town of fools, where demons are just itching to ruin the party Reb Pupkin and his wife are giving for their son, Chaim, visiting them from America. But when ChaimDnow calling himself CharlesDdescribes the wonders of New York City (streets paved with gold, meals five times a day, parties all day and all night), the demons believe him. They slip themselves into a packing crate bound for America but, for various reasons, the crate goes unopened for more than 50 years. When the demons finally see New York, their tricks don't carry much weight. If they make the milk go sour, for example, people ""would just go to the corner and get more."" Even their decision to unveil themselves backfiresDthey do not know they are at a Halloween party, where their scary appearance will go undetected. Eventually, they figure out how to cause trouble (personal computers, for example, present rich possibilities). This funny, unexpectedly sympathetic story finds its match in Podwal's illustrations. Less folkloric than in previous works, his paintings discreetly isolate key elements of the narrative. The understated compositions keep the demons' doings puckish rather than wicked, and the sunny colors buoy the already light tone. Ages 5-up. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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