Illustrated by Renee Andriani
MB Publishing (2016; ages 4-8)
One giant jar of Gefilte fish, one grandson and one set of grandparents—a surprising formula for a fun and lively delight of a picture book. A Gefilte Fishy Tale quickly draws in young and old with its bouncy rhymes by Allison and Wayne Marks, all spritzed with Yiddish. This gentle and humorous adventure roams through their town as they prepare for Shabbos, their Friday evening Sabbath meal.
Bubbe (grandmother) Judy hopes to include grandson Jack’s favorite—gefilte fish. But the lid of the huge jar is stuck and everyone from Zayde (grandfather) to their local auto mechanic gets involved as they schlep it from person to person in attempts to loosen the lid.
Silliness abounds and the Yiddish terms sprinkled throughout in italics are words many of us have heard and used, perhaps unaware of their origin.
“They basted it with butter
And spritzed some pickle juice.
They slathered it with olive oil—
It wouldn’t wiggle loose.”
“They lugged it to their auto shop
And schmeared it well with sludge.
But even with a monkey wrench
That lid refused to budge.”
Delightful illustrations by Renee Andriani show a nicely diverse town where both racial and gender stereotypes are avoided. When the town doctor diagnoses “a dreadful case of Liddy-stuck-a-tosis everyone from the dentist to the plumber is consulted for a potential fix.
“They stopped to noodge the plumber.
She sniffed the yummy sauce.
“Don’t give up. If I have time,
I’ll show that jar who’s boss!”
When it’s time for Shabbat dinner an intergenerational array of family members tackle the task with creativity and humor. Naturally it’s young Jack himself who is successful—
“Jack thought perhaps a magic word
Would do the trick with ease.
He bowed beside it, tapped it twice
And softly whispered, “Please?”
A Yiddish-English glossary for the whole mishpocha anchors the beginning of this book and a recipe for Gefilte Fish Mini Muffins and a light hearted Shabbat song are included in the back.
A Gefilte Fishy Tale is a treasure celebrating both Jewish traditions, and the enrichment of languages and cultures with the addition of words from other languages.
It’s my hope this picture book will be shared not only in Jewish families, but in families of many different religions and ethnic backgrounds. Cultures are continually enriched by other cultures. Diversity is a gift and both America and the world are in great need of gentle reminders.
In addition, older adults are an important part of most families and aging is a normal part of life. Older characters should be shown as a valued part of a diverse society.
Myths about Grandparents
This little book also assists us in busting a few widely held erroneous beliefs about grandparents. A blog post at “The Grandparent Effect” by Olivia Gentile shares “5 Myths about grandparents that it’s time to trash.”
Included is the myth that most grandparents are old. “As of 2010, 54 percent of American grandparents were younger than 65, and 80 percent were younger than 75, according to the MetLife Report on American Grandparents.”
Fortunately more and more writers and illustrators are catching on—fewer now portray grandparents with stereotypical traits or treat all older adults as if they are all of the same generation.
And yet, libraries still house stacks of picture books filled with stereotypes of age such as frail, forgetful, freaky and funny.
Picture books that, as in one published fairly recently, show an old man getting lost between the sofa and the TV—yet fail to address the fact that that is NOT aging, it is dementia, a disease. (In fact, a disease that is declining as the population ages.)
Parents tote home negative stereotypes of aging with a total lack of awareness that these images damage the health and well-being of all ages. More than likely they chuckle as they read bouncy rhymes about biddies and witches.
Publishers continue to publish books that either leave out older adults entirely (ageism by invisibility), or show kids fixing the so called “problems of aging” such as grumpiness.
But there are encouraging signs of change also. The good news—my list of newer Positive Aging picture books to review is now quite long! And this blog at A is for Aging is even being used occasionally as a resource for writers of children’s literature. Thanks mainly to author Cynthia Leitich Smith who teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Perhaps someday diversity in books for kids will naturally include older characters.
Check out this article “Early Children’s Literature and Aging” recently published in the journal Creative Education. It is written by Sandra McGuire Ph.D. and she kindly cites this blog—A is for Aging, B is for Books. Dr. McGuire has compiled a list of Positive Aging picture books and I am in the (slow) process of adding them to the Picture Books tab of this website.
It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog most Fridays—find more great books reviewed there.