A STUDY OF THE GOLEM, ILLUSTRATED BY
DAVID WISNIEWSKI

Kay E. Vandergrift

Special Interest Page

Background

Illustrated Books

Alternative Versions

Related Issues

Children's Responses

Shadow Puppets

 

David Wisniewski's Golem, winner of the 1997 Caldecott Award, is not only an outstanding artistic achievement; it is a dramatic re-telling of a story with deep roots in history, religion, and legend. Although this book can certainly be appreciated without any extrinsic information; knowledge of religious history, of other tellings of the tale, and of the artistic techniques used to create the illustrations may enhance understanding and enjoyment for some readers. The web pages linked to this discussion group provide a great deal of background information related to this book, no doubt more than most readers would want to know. The array of contextual content, however, is intended to provide alternative paths for those who desire additional information on any of a number of related topics.

Some initial questions about the Golem are introduced below. Students are expected to add their responses and initiate new questions in the discussion group. Since Golem has been declared the "most distinguished American picture book" of 1996, one might begin a study of this work by raising questions about the illustrations.

  1. What does the cover art convey to potential readers?
  2. How do visual angles and point of view contribute to the illustration of this tale?
  3. What is the import/impact of the particular colors used?
  4. How important is it to be able to "read" the Jewish symbols and the Hebrew characters in the illustrations?
  5. How do the fine lines and details of the paper-cutting contribute to the setting?
  6. How does the juxtaposition of very delicate fine details with massive bold figures convey the aesthetic feeling of this tale?

Additional questions may be raised by the text and/or the total composition of the book:

  1. Will child readers identify with the Golem?
  2. Are there childlike elements in the golem as created?
  3. What is conveyed in the text that is not in the illustrations?
  4. How important is a knowledge of Judaic traditions for an understanding of this text?
  5. What is the importance of naming?
  6. What is the significance of the Golem's first words: "Father, was this wise to do?"?
  7. Does an oral reading make the dense text more accessible to young people?
  8. Does it make it more powerful for any age reader?
  9. Is an oral reading necessary to convey the dramatic essence of this work by Wisniewski?

Background on the Golem Legends The background and bibliography provided here adds dimension to our understanding of the Golem legend. It may encourage readers to do more research in this area and develop greater depth in approaching this re-telling.

Illustrated Books by David Wisniewski Seeing the totality of David Wisniewski's work in book illustration is filling in the edges of understanding. Knowing something about the man through author sites adds further dimension.

Alternative Versions of the Golem Written for Children Opportunities are provided here to examine alternative artwork in Golem and Golem-like books. There is also a bibliography of versions of the Golem legend for young people.

Websites on the Golem and Related Issues This is a wide-ranging collection of websites that each address aspects of the Golem legend from a variety of standpoints.

Children's Responses to the Golem This provides electronic mail exchanges on the Golem by David Wisniewski. It is an opportunity to explore reactions of children to the book from the viewpoint of the adults reporting this response.

Shadow Puppets and Paper Cutting Because the specific art techniques used by David Wisniewski may be of great interest to both adults and children, this page provide commentary by Wisniewski on paper cutting and additional resources on this art form.

Created June 2, 1997 and is continuously revised
SCILS, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey