Children's Literature Page
most traditional tales, the Golem story was not intended for children.
In fact, many adults have been reluctant to share David Wisniewski's picture
book with youngsters because of the "dark" nature of the tale. This is
not unusual. Over the years, folk and fairy tales have been revised, sanitized,
and softened for child audiences; and certainly previous Caldecott Award-winning
books have been challenged as to their appropriateness for children.
adult intermediaries bringing books to young people, we must recognize
that no good book is good for all readers. Our role, however, is not to
"protect" children from harsh or difficult works. We are responsible for
making the very best books available, helping young people develop their
own critical abilities, and respecting their judgments about what is "right"
for them at a particular moment in time. Respecting their judgments, however,
does not mean that we do not continue to work with them as they select
and respond to literary works.
some instances, as with the Golem, the kind of contextual information
provided in these web pages helps the adult assist young readers in making
sense of and appreciating a particular tale. Although such knowledge is
not necessary to appreciate the story, those who truly love the work will
enjoy knowing and thus add to their appreciation.
comments below come from adults who have shared David Wisniewski's GOLEM
is an email message sent to the listserv "ChildLit" on Feb. 26, 1997 by
Connie Healey, Arnold School, Lincoln, Nebraska. It is reproduced here
with the permission of the author (Tuesday May 27, 1997) and of the owner
of the list, Michael Joseph.
I hesitated to share GOLEM with my multi age 2/3 [grades] but
decided to go ahead. I feared the darkness of the theme and ghetto concepts
might be too sophisticated. Surprisingly, they adore the book. They
immediately spoke to the coloration as so appropriate when dealing with
a figure raised from clay and were fascinated once again by his technique.
I even have some attempting cut paper illustration and discovering its
intricacies. A student who struggles with first grade level reading
will not allow anyone else time with the book. He loves it. He sits
and pores over it. He has asked to keep Rain Player in his area
also. You just can't second guess them. Their questions were straight
forward about content, and I shared some of the detail, as in the translation
of the Hebrew, but didn't go too far into depth, only as far as they
wished to go. I love seeing them seek out his work in the media center.
They knew Rain Player and Elfwyn's Saga. Now they also
know Sundiata by their own selection."
is a personal email message sent to me by Karen Hinz in Clearwater, Florida.
It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.
My response to the GOLEM is that I liked it. What I like about
it is that the illustrator took a simple art idea and crafted it into
an art form. The story line in GOLEM is, I believe, factual and
based on history, or a part of history that many would care to erase
from memory. What transpired during that time frame is grotesque. Wisniewski
captures this ugliness of human nature not only in the story line but
also in his art. The art work reflects this by the overall darkness
and strong use of color. Life is not always pretty; kids know this and
respond with a surprisingly great deal of maturity when faced with hard
facts of life.
I have read Elfwyn's Saga by Wisniewski and liked that better
as far as the story line simply because it is based more on fantasy
or oral tradition as opposed to historical fact. Wisniewski's art again
reflects this in his overall color scheme. Since the story line deals
with the origin of the northern lights, the colors are lighter in nature.
Whereas, the color scheme in GOLEM reflects the mood and ugliness
of the events. Both stories tell of the side of human nature that is
not so glamorous; Wisniewski use of color to capture the overall feeling
or theme is appropriate to both.
Another reason I was interested in the GOLEM is that I was born
in a Jewish community on the north side of Chicago. The story is more
of a reality to me because my neighbors were ones who suffered or had
relatives who suffered under the scourge of Hitler's reign. Therefore,
the long suffering of the Jewish people is reality to me because I have
seen it first hand, or perhaps I should say second hand. My children
today have no sense of this because they are so far removed from that
time period. They have no sense of needs, of hunger, of suffering. They
live in a time of extreme plenty. Even though I did read the book to
Fred and Joshua. [Kindergarten and first grade] Fred's response was
not all that much--he simply liked the story, and that was all that
he said. My son, Joshua just liked it too, but had no idea as to why.
For a reader to get more of a response out of a book, the book must
grab hold of something that they know. For adult readers to get more
of a response out of children who would have little contact or knowledge
of the story line, they must create a real experience that pertains
to the story line or go an extra mile to make things more real or concrete.
Ex: field trip to a holocaust museum or hearing someone speak of their
hard time brings more of the reality of a story to life. Hearing about
something and giving it a true life experience helps to bring a story
into reality. Since we now live by the Gulf of Mexico, when my children
read about sea life it becomes reality to them because they experience
the beach and the gulf and the sea life first hand. This gives my boys
a great deal of connectivity to whatever they have just read about sea
This year during a Kindergarten unit on the rain forest, the class also
studied the works of Eric Carle. By combining his art form or colored
tissue paper and cut outs, the class constructed a class book using
the simple theme of rain forest animals and the alphabet. After we did
the art project, his stories became more real to the children because
of their own ability to create a book just like Eric Carle.
Since I work mainly with the very young grades, Kindergarten and First,
their paper cutting skills are not on the level of what Wisniewski is
able to create. If one were to use paper cutting as an art form at this
grade level, the first thing one would need to do is to simplify. Wisniewski's
themes are complicated and far too involved for that age group. One
would need a simple theme that would deal with one subject. Then let
the child build on that one subject. The main thing that one must realize
is that when the artist, Wisniewski, does these cut outs he does them
on a three dimensional level. He has the ability to see a picture and
portray it on this level. Many young children can not discern or portray
their own body. At the beginning of my son's school year he drew himself
in what may be termed as an octopus. He had a head, legs with feet and
arms with fingers but no body. By the end of the year, he perceived
and drew himself with a head, neck, body, got the color of clothes he
was wearing correct, along with hands fingers and shoes. Quite an achievement.
June 2, 1997 and is continuously revised
SCILS, Rutgers, The State
University of New Jersey