Written by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Steve Brown
Ages 8-12, 96pp, 6 x 9
The Wise Men of Chelm stories are retold for a new generation by award-winning author Eric Kimmel. An appealing chapter book format and humorous, edgy illustration combine with a timeless old country setting and a modern gender balance to appeal to today’s young readers.
"This book of folktales has a message, and it may not be inspirational: Anyone can be a Chelmite.Many people know the origin story of Chelm. As Kimmel puts it: "God called the angels and said to them, ‘Take these sacks and spread the souls [inside] throughout the world.' " But a sack of fools tore open in transit, and they all landed in the same village. Kimmel's Chelmites are a very diverse group. He writes: "Some readers may be surprised to encounter a woman rabbi and people of color in a Chelm story. That would have been highly unusual in Eastern Europe of the time, and the original Chelm stories reflected their time. So should ours." Brown's drawings make the wide variety of characters instantly lovable in just a few lines. The author embellishes the stories in ways that might startle people familiar with more-traditional versions. These Chelmites tore the sack themselves, clamoring to see where they were going. Some passages appear to be brand new. The Chelmites say morning prayers at all times of day or night, in case they get snowed in at daybreak. This leads the rabbi to make a truly lovely speech: "God always hears our prayers, no matter when we say them. And the beautiful snow is a blessing from Heaven, so why not enjoy it?" Purists may be puzzled at first, but readers will find themselves loving these Chelmites."
— Kirkus Reviews