cover image WHEN THE CHICKENS WENT ON STRIKE: A Rosh Hashanah Tale


Erica Silverman, , illus. by Matthew Trueman. . Dutton, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-525-46862-2

Adapting a tale by Sholom Aleichem, Silverman (Raisel's Riddle) transports readers to a shtetl where Aleichem's famous Tevye might have felt at home. The narrator, an unnamed boy, truly wants to be good, but human nature gets in the way. Thank goodness for Rosh Hashanah, he thinks, when he can make Kapores (the custom of swinging a chicken over one's head to take away the bad deeds of the past year). This year the resentful chickens go on strike, a scenario Silverman develops with great glee. The satire intensifies as the villagers attempt to recapture their errant fowl. ("Such heroes!... You really scared those chickens," the women scoff when the men return with beards and coats in tatters, thoroughly routed by the chickens.) But the absurdity of the plot gives way to an eminently rational and even profound resolution, wherein the boy, interrogated by a chicken, realizes that he does not, perhaps, need Kapores to bring honor to himself and his parents. "So you see, customs come and customs go.... I learned this from chickens," the narrator concludes, now an adult looking back. Debut illustrator Trueman does justice to this multi-level story with carefully layered paintings that achieve subtle but tactile dimensions. His human figures bear a likeness to the geometric features of Mitra Modarressi's characters, but their faces are comically askew, their proportions as exaggerated as the fractured logic of Silverman's text dictates. The Rosh Hashanah motif notwithstanding, this wise and funny book might be enjoyed at all times of year, by a wide range of readers. Ages 5-9. (Aug.)