cover image Grandpa's Gamble

Grandpa's Gamble

Richard Michelson. Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7614-5034-4

As their parents prepare for the Passover seder, sometime in the era of Babe Ruth, a boy and his sister have to keep quiet, because Grandpa Sam is busy davening (praying). The children are convinced that Grandpa is utterly boring until he begins to tell them about his childhood in Poland and his emigration to America. Michelson (Animals That Ought to Be) departs from the now-familiar pattern of immigration stories by rendering young Sam's disillusionment with the promised land. When Grandpa first arrived in the slums of New York, times were so tough that, as Sam's cousin told him, ""An honest man can't even make a living picking pockets anymore."" Sam learns to cheat at cards and grows rich gambling--until his young daughter's sudden illness prompts him to make one final, momentous wager with God. The author heightens the plot with his flavorful dialogue; unfortunately, Moser's illustrations drain the story of its color, literally and figuratively. Rendered in graphite and sepia on antique paper, the compositions will likely look drab to young readers, Moser's faultless draftsmanship notwithstanding. The artist seems to steer away from drama: to illustrate Sam's period of gambling, for example, he shows just a pair of hands shuffling cards; when Sam anguishes about his ailing daughter, he sits alone on a chair, hiding his face from the reader. The somber tone of the art threatens to reduce this vibrant tale to a lesson in piety, not in life. All ages. (Mar.)