cover image The Schmutzy Family

The Schmutzy Family

Madelyn Rosenberg, illus. by Paul Meisel. Holiday House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2371-2

Jewish mothers used to be famous for houses so clean you could eat off the floor, entire rooms cordoned off from family life, and furniture veritably shrink-wrapped in plastic slipcovers. The Jewish mother in this freshly imagined story, the freewheeling Mrs. Schumtzy, is far less finicky (the family’s name is based on the word schmutz, Yiddish for dirt). “[W]hen they turned the sink into a natural habitat for frogs and other amphibians? It was Mama who plugged the drain,” writes debut author Rosenberg in crisp, reportorial prose. But when Friday morning comes, it’s a different story—at sundown, Shabbos (the Jewish Sabbath) will start, and being schmutzy is definitely not the way to greet this holy time of rest and reflection. Meisel’s (The Leprechaun Under the Bed) ink-and-watercolor cartooning cheerfully chronicles the family’s transformation from profane (which in this case involves a lot of mud, cow pies, and swamp critters) to sacred, and conveys so much joyousness and family happiness around Shabbos that most readers—even non-Jews—will agree that having to bathe, clean house, and dress up is well worth it. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)