Gerstein, Mordicai 1935-
American illustrator, author of picture books, and young adult novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Gerstein's career through 2004.
Gerstein is an acclaimed author and illustrator of children's picture books, chapter books, and young adult novels. His works include tales of children raised in the wilderness, retellings of biblical and traditional Jewish legends, humorous, whimsical stories, and well-researched historical accounts of notable individuals. Gerstein has been widely praised for his skillful integration of story, theme, and character with design and illustrations that combine pen-and-ink drawings with gauche and oil paintings. In 2004 Gerstein was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal for The Man Who Walked between the Towers (2003). His other notable works include Behind the Couch (1996), The Wild Boy (1998), Noah and the Great Flood (1999), and What Charlie Heard (2002).
Gerstein was born on November 24, 1935, in Los Angeles, California, and was raised in East Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. He was introduced to literature and art at an early age by his parents—his mother loved painting and books, and his father, Samuel Gerstein, was a playwright who also made his living in business. Deeply influenced by the stories and books he read as a youngster, Gerstein began drawing illustrations for his favorite books even as a child. After high school, he studied painting privately in New Mexico and then attended the Chouinard Art Institute in California. Leaving the Chouinard Art Institute in 1956, he began working for the animation studio United Productions of America, painting in his spare time. Married for the first time, he moved to New York, continued painting, and also began making his own animated films,
earning a living from his films, commercial animation, and a weekly cartoon he drew for the Village Voice. In 1973 Gerstein first turned to book illustration, entering an ongoing working partnership with children's writer Elizabeth Levy, providing artwork as well as ideas for her children's books. Between 1973 and 1997, Gerstein contributed illustrations for Levy's popular "Something Queer Is Going On" mystery series, as well as the "Fletcher" mystery series, a spin-off of the "Queer" works. The books in the first series trace the adventures of best friends Gwen and Jill, while the books in the second series feature Jill's canine, Fletcher, as he solves comical mysteries in books intended for children just beginning chapter books. Gerstein's first children's books were exclusively work-for hire jobs, illustrating the works of other writers, but he soon recognized picture books as an especially creative medium and began writing and illustrating his own stories. Gerstein, who taught himself the technique called color separation, uses a wide range of media in his illustrations, which critics have generally praised for their ability to communicate, to show detail, and to capture the sense of movement. In 1983 Gerstein wrote and illustrated his first solo picture book, Arnold of the Ducks, combining memories of his childhood with the boy-raised-by-wild-animals theme borrowed from such stories as Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Since the initial publication of Arnold of the Ducks, Gerstein has become a widely recognized and award-winning children's author and illustrator, contributing to over thirty different titles.
Throughout several of his works, including his first book Arnold of the Ducks, Gerstein has explored the archetypal stories of feral children—humans who are raised in the wild. Arnold of the Ducks is the story of a boy raised by ducks who must eventually reintegrate himself into human society. Having learned to swim and fly like a duck, he longs to join his bird family once again, but cannot turn back from his life as a human. Two of Gerstein's later books, Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron (1998) and The Wild Boy, are based on the real-life story of a boy who came to be known as the "Savage of Aveyron." The child was found in the woods in the south of France in 1800, apparently having been abandoned as an infant and raised by wild animals. A young doctor by the name of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard adopted the boy, named him Victor, and attempted to habituate him back into human society, although Victor never learned to speak. Drawing from Itard's own account, Gerstein simultaneously published Victor as a young adult novel and The Wild Boy as a picture book, retelling the same story for a younger audience. Gerstein has also established himself as a skilled illustrator and re-teller of traditional stories derived from the Old Testament and Jewish folklore. In such picture storybooks as Jonah and the Two Great Fish (1997) and Noah and the Great Flood, he recounts familiar biblical tales, embellished with his own narrative inventions and imaginative illustrations. Inspired by his mourning over the death of his father, Gerstein wrote and illustrated The Shadow of a Flying Bird (1994), a legend drawn from the Kurdistani Jewish tradition. In the tale, Moses, who is one hundred and twenty years old, pleads with God to be allowed to continue living. God, however, eventually ends Moses's life so that he may enter the kingdom of heaven. As God explains to Moses, "[a] man or woman's life is like the shadow of a flying bird." In Queen Esther, the Morning Star (2000), Gerstein presents the story of Esther, a young Jewish woman who offered herself in marriage to the king of Persia in order to save her people from genocide. The Jewish holiday of Purim is based on Esther's legend.
Though Gerstein often utilizes serious and historical events in his picture books, he has also written and illustrated a number of overtly humorous and fanciful children's works. In the chapter-book Behind the Couch, Zachary discovers a magical world hidden behind the couch in his living room. In the world behind the couch, Zachary finds such delights as his Uncle Yankle, who always carries pistachio nuts, Ralphine, the prettiest girl in his school, dozens of slippers, toy cars and trucks, the Lost Coin Hill, and the Valley of Stuffed Animals, of which Wallace—Zachary's stuffed purple pig—is the president. In the surreal Stop Those Pants! (1998), a boy's efforts to get dressed in the morning are thwarted by an adventurous pair of pants that decides to play hide-and-seek. The Absolutely Awful Alphabet (1999) is an alphabet book in which each letter represents a different type of monster, from the "awfully arrogant Amphibian" to the "zigzagging zoological Zany."
Among Gerstein's most recent works are two biographies written as children's picture books. What Charlie Heard tells the story of the childhood of American composer Charles Ives. Gerstein's tale begins by stating that Ives "was born with his ears wide open" and features illustrations that emphasize the variety of everyday sounds which contributed to Ives's musical compositions. Sparrow Jack (2003) relates the accomplishments of John Beardsley, a British man who settled in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century. Gerstein illustrates Beardsley's successful efforts to rid Philadelphia of an invasion of leaf-eating inchworms by importing one thousand sparrows from England to eat the worms. Published two years after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center, Gerstein's picture book The Man Who Walked between the Towers describes the true-life feats of French acrobat Philippe Petit who, in 1974, walked a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers. Gerstein's story describes Petit's illegal scheme of entering the towers at night with several assistants, disguised as construction workers, stretching a cable between the two towers, and performing his tightrope act at daybreak. Gerstein's illustrations allow the reader to look down on the city of New York from the perspective of the tightrope walker, as well as looking up at the acrobat from the ground. The Man Who Walked between the Towers ends in the post-September 11 present, after the destruction of the towers, explaining that, "Now the towers are gone…. But in memory, as if imprinted on the sky, the towers are still there." Several of Gerstein's other recent works include Albert and the Angels (2000), a Christmas tale, The Jar of Fools (2000), a collection of traditional Yiddish Hanukkah tales, I am Arachne (2001), a volume of stories based on ancient Greek and Roman myths, and Three Samurai Cats (2003), derived from a Japanese Zen parable.
Gerstein has been widely praised for his skillful integration of narrative and theme with design and illustration. Critics have particularly lauded his imaginative retellings of ancient legends that convey broad biblical themes through entertaining stories and lively illustrations. In her review of The Shadow of a Flying Bird, Hanna B. Zieger has noted that, "Gerstein's oil paintings convey the magnitude of the heavenly debate with majestic, star-strewn images of the deity in contrast to the small, sculptural figure of Moses wrapped in white robes and standing on a mountain top." Patricia Pearl Dole, reviewing Jonah and the Two Great Fish, has opined, "[w]hat sets the book apart from the many fine versions of the Jonah story are the enthralling oil paintings that sparkle with humor, imagination, and absorbing details. Done in a richly hued folk-art style that is sophisticated in its depiction of character and its balance and rhythm, the pictures are brimming with life and warmth." Reviewers of The Wild Boy have asserted that the hues and tones of the illustrations depicting various phases in the feral boy's life are effectively evocative of the child's perceptions of these experiences. As Diane Roback has observed, "[t]he smoothly paced writing sustains a mysterious and sometimes melancholy tone, in keeping with its subject matter. In loose-lined panel illustrations, Gerstein conveys an arc of emotions." Most critics have found Gerstein's young adult novel Victor well-researched and compelling, though some have argued that Gerstein's narrative maintains a distance from the central characters, which leaves the story lacking in emotional impact. What Charlie Heard has attracted praise for Gerstein's visual depictions of a budding composer's experiences with everyday sounds. Echoing the opinions of many, Joanna Rudge Long called the book "an unusually creative synthesis of format, composition, and text." Commentators have largely applauded The Man Who Walked between the Towers as an effective and powerful memorial to the World Trade Center. The book's Publishers Weekly review stated that, "Gerstein's dramatic paintings include some perspectives bound to take any reader's breath away. Truly affecting is the book's final painting of the imagined imprint of the towers, now existing 'in memory'—linked by Philippe and his high wire."
Arnold of the Ducks (picture book) 1983
The Sun's Day (picture book) 1989
The New Creatures (picture book) 1991
The Story of May (picture book) 1993
The Shadow of a Flying Bird: A Legend of the Kurdistani Jews (picture book) 1994
Behind the Couch (picture book) 1996
Jonah and the Two Great Fish (picture book) 1997
Stop Those Pants! (picture book) 1998
Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron (young adult novel) 1998
The Wild Boy (picture book) 1998
The Absolutely Awful Alphabet (picture book) 1999
Noah and the Great Flood (picture book) 1999
Albert and the Angels [illustrator] (picture book) 2000
The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm [illustrator] (picture book) 2000
Queen Esther, the Morning Star: The Story of Purim (picture book) 2000
Fox Eyes (picture book) 2001
I am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths [illustrator] (picture book) 2001
A Hare-Raising Tail [illustrator] (picture book) 2002
The Principal's on the Roof [illustrator] (picture book) 2002
What Charlie Heard (picture book) 2002
The Cool Ghoul Mystery [illustrator] (picture book) 2003
The Man Who Walked between the Towers (picture book) 2003
The Mystery of Too Many Elvises [illustrator] (picture book) 2003
Sparrow Jack (picture book) 2003
Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan [illustrator] (picture book) 2003
Mordicai Gerstein (essay date November-December 1999)
SOURCE: Gerstein, Mordicai. "Who the Wild Things Are: The Feral Child in Fiction." Horn Book Magazine 75, no. 6 (November-December 1999): 721-26.
[In the following essay, Gerstein discusses the tradition of stories about children raised in the wild and notes its influence on his books, The Wild Boy and Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron.]
Stories about feral children have always fascinated me. As a child, I read what I could find, and as an adult I found myself writing them. For me, part of the purpose of writing is to find out why a subject intrigues me. Why the feral child?
I first encountered him when I was seven or eight in the dust- and popcorn-scented darkness of a neighborhood movie palace. The enormous deep red velvet curtains lifted in curved folds—and there was a tangled jungle of intensely green leaves and vines where deer huddled and tigers and panthers stalked. Leaves rattled in close-up and then parted—and there was a boy, brown-skinned, bare-chested, black hair flowing to his shoulders, quick black eyes flicking back and forth, nostrils dilated and twitching: Sabu as Mowgli.
For the next couple of years, that's who I wanted to be: a self-sufficient prince of the jungle who came and went by swinging through the trees, and who spoke the languages of all the animals; who had wolves for brothers, a black panther for a best friend—and a life infinitely more wonderful than the one I lived in our San Fernando Valley ranch house. A bit later, when I read The Jungle Book, on which the film was based, I was equally captivated. Walt Disney's later cartoon version, full of songs and one liners, missed, for me, the beauty and magic; so did Tarzan, a grown-up feral child I knew from the Sunday comics and black-and-white B movies.
The heart of my fantasy was leaving the human world for a kind of jungle Eden where all one needed was readily found and that had, in Kipling's version, less hypocrisy, more nobility. I liked best the idea of being protected from potential enemies by powerful animal friends. Mowgli knew the animal dialects, the proverbs of the wolves, the polite way to address a snake. In the realm of fairy tale, conversations between people and animals, like Little Red Riding Hood's chat with the Wolf, are everyday events. I suspect this springs from an underlying human belief that we actually do communicate with animals, verbally and nonverbally. Making eye contact with an owl or fox in the woods feels to me like a substantial exchange of greetings and questions.
There is also a genre in children's literature of the wild rather than feral child. The wild child, rather than being lost in the wild, chooses and embraces it, along with wildness. The Gingerbread Boy may be its archetype. Off he goes into the world, absolutely independent, caring not a whit for anyone and afraid of nothing. (Of course, he doesn't do too well.) Sendak's Max is a gingerbread boy, plunging into the jungle of his own inherent wildness and celebrating it; the prince of his own jungle, he thrives in it. Huck Finn is another. But these are not feral children.
Historically, only a handful of cases of children found living in the wild, alone or with animals, have been more or less convincingly documented. In the typical account, the feral child always resists capture and, once captured, is found to be mute, though some have been reported to have later learned to make some type of utterance. There is then always the hope of bringing the child into society, teaching it to speak, and learning something of its wild life. At the same time, though, and almost paradoxically, we study the child, trying to find answers to the question of what kind of creatures we are at our essence—who we would be without the guidance and education provided by family and society.
There have also been cases—like that of Kaspar Hauser in the nineteenth century and "Genie" in the latter part of the twentieth century—of children who were imprisoned, isolated, and kept from all outside stimulus; children who have been forced, essentially, to play the subject in what Roger Shattuck calls the "forbidden experiment," by which he means depriving a child of society and human context to create a pure example of humanity. These cases only give us painful evidence of the effects of such abusive treatment. Herodotus tells of a king who performed this experiment to determine the original language of mankind. He caused a mute shepherd to raise a child away from all society. At the age of five, the child was brought before the king, who addressed him. The boy responded by baaing like a sheep. It was the only language he had heard.
Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan became king of the apes, and Kipling made Mowgli a kind of jungle prince, superior in both the animal and human realms because of his human intelligence and dexterity combined with his jungle knowledge. But the antelope boy who was reported to have been seen in the Sahara in the 1960s was not dominant or superior in his herd, and the wolf girls found in India early in this century were neither leaders of the pack nor successful humans. Jane Yolen depicts them very realistically in her novel Children of the Wolf, and they are not very appealing—except to the adolescent boy who is the novel's hero, and for whose emerging self-awareness they are a foil. While Julie in Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves is not a feral child, she brings us close to a community of wolves in a very convincing, more realistic way than either Mowgli or Tarzan. Karen Hesse's The Music of Dolphins is remarkable in that it tries to give us first-hand the experience of a feral child by having the protagonist tell us in her own words, as she acquires them, about her life among the dolphins.
The great opportunity in these stories is to escape the vantage of anthropocentricity to experience an alternative way of living on this earth; of seeing human society from a completely alien point of view, as Hesse's dolphin girl does, and so provide a critical vision of that society. One of the greatest gifts of fiction is allowing us to see through the eyes of others.
Another vast topic involved in stories of feral children is education: how we learn to be what we are, and how much of what we are is learned.
If Sabu's Mowgli fired my seven-year-old imagination with ideas of joining the wilder world, François Truffaut's film The Wild Child introduced the more mature me to Victor of Aveyron and a new, completely convincing vision of a child, seemingly unmarked by the human world, surviving successfully alone. The boy who played Victor was as beautiful in his own way as Sabu's Mowgli. There is an uncanny unhuman quality in everything he does. Victor's real-life teacher, twenty-six-year-old Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, wrote two reports of his six years of work with the pre-adolescent boy found naked and mute in the rugged mountains of south central France at the start of the nineteenth century. Unlike the accounts of the Indian wolf girls, Itard's descriptions of Victor evoke a sprite of some kind; there is a magic about him. The story of Victor has all the potential elements of the wild child scenario. I used it as inspiration for my first picture book, Arnold of the Ducks, and then later for The Wild Boy, and eventually my novelized account of the story, Victor. Itard's reports provide not only the best documentation we have of a feral child but also one of the most thoughtful, beautifully written, and moving accounts of a teacher-pupil relationship, which has as its object nothing less than learning to be a human being (or at least what Itard, as a man of his time, thought a human being to be). Thinkers of the enlightenment felt it particularly urgent to define the differences between humankind and other animals (among which some wanted to include people they called "savages") in order to draw clear borders separating us from them. In 1735, the scientist Linneaus named homo Ferus a distinct species. Itard's ambition to have Victor speak ultimately failed, but even if he had succeeded, he could never know Victor better or be more truly, deeply engaged with him than during those evenings, early on, when they sat together as Victor loved to, with the boy's face buried in the man's hands. But the more Itard taught Victor, and the more civilized Victor became, the more the distance between them grew.
For me, another major fascination with the feral child is the thought of experiencing the world without language, directly, as pure sensation. Language is not only a medium of interpersonal communication, but also the means we use to speak to ourselves, and in so doing, objectify ourselves. I am a voice, and I am a listener. What was I before language? I see language as a kind of clothing or armor. I look up and see the moon; I have a name for it. The name is between myself and it. The word is a kind of shield or filter. But what would it be to face the moon—that big, blind, glowing eye—without a word to protect me from it? What is it like to experience the world as an infant does?
Are ideas possible without language? What is the nature of thought without words? Would there be some other language, a grammar of the senses, some medium to order and deal with our experience? What is it? One of the most moving and remarkable chapters of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the one in which the monster describes his first days of life, his first vivid, incoherent, innocent impressions of the world:
It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original era of my being; all the events of that period seem confused and indistinct. A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses.
Helen Keller, deprived of sight, hearing, and language, lived this; it was her childhood. As she describes it with the words she learned later, it was a wild and rather formless world of sensations. Her acquisition of language was for her a joyful revelation that gave form to her world and, most important, made her a social being.
The idea—the fantasy—of the feral child brings me close to certain summer mornings of my early childhood, walking barefoot over bedewed grass through the shadowy coolness under trees and bushes. It is the joy of not needing clothes or towns or anything or anyone, and being a part of the day and place, as they are a part of me. It is the idea of living outside the constraints and forms of society, outside of language, in a life of direct relation, as in Martin Buber's I-Thou. This I imagine as a state of constant wonder.
Of course I have a much more intellectual understanding of the feral child story and all its implications, but at bottom I simply take pleasure in it, as I do in drinking cool sweet water, which, maybe, is the real point after all. Intellectual understanding has its limits, and there is another and more primal kind that has its own meanings and content. The one untempered by the other is incomplete. Poetry, I believe, is the name we give to that expression that attempts to say the un-sayable. "The poem," Wallace Stevens said, "must resist the intelligence almost successfully." (italics mine)
I believe a story is good to the extent that it provokes good questions. The tale of the feral child is fascinating because it brings up so many questions, not so much about who we are, but what we are and how we become what we are. And just as interesting, given other circumstances, What might we become?
Mary M. Burns (review date November-December 1998)
SOURCE: Burns, Mary M. Review of The Wild Boy and Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron, by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 74, no. 6 (November-December 1998): 714-15.
[In the following review, Burns discusses Gerstein's The Wild Boy and Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron.]
In a brief introduction to [Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron ], Gerstein acknowledges Truffaut's film The Wild Child (1970) as his inspiration for this dual treatment of an exotic and fascinating topic: the story of the wild boy, found in the forests of southern France shortly after the French Revolution, who became a national sensation and the subject of many investigations into the nature of culture, learning, and intelligence. It was the era of Rousseau and Locke; consequently, the theories of what made a person essentially or innately human were constantly debated. Many dignitaries examined the child, but it was a young doctor named Jean-Marc Itard who committed himself to the task of introducing a child without language, memory of human encounters, or interests beyond survival to the norms of social behavior and learning. The story of that commitment is given two different but not incompatible treatments as a picture book [The Wild Boy ] and as a novel [Victor ]. Obviously, the novel, designed for older readers, can expand upon the basic information, introduce more characters and examples of the difficulties which both boy and mentor encountered, delve into the problems of emerging sexuality in an unconstrained being, and provide graphic descriptions of uninhibited behavior in conflict with the training provided by Itard and his associates. Yet the picture book has a haunting, wistful charm captured in a minimal space through a well-honed poetic text accompanied by delicately limned, impressionistic illustrations. It conveys the struggle between scientific interest and human concern without proselytizing, allowing events to speak for themselves, as in the poignant conclusion when Itard, observing Victor gazing at the full moon with rapt attention, thinks, "I wonder what he sees … I wonder what he feels. I wonder …" And so do we. The novel also emphasizes this emotion, but less economically because it differs in tone and intent. Told from a variety of perspectives, including Victor's, it also introduces a subplot, the story of Julie (the daughter of Victor's surrogate mother), who has been sexually abused by her sister's husband and is revolted by Victor's interest in her. Because of limitations posed by the format and intended audience, the picture book does not describe the final months of the relationship between Victor and Itard when the latter realizes that his efforts to teach the child to speak are fruitless, that Victor's frustration level has been exceeded, and that their continued association would be futile. Yet, his work with Victor was not without merit, as the afterwords of the picture book and the novel indicate, for it inspired Maria Montessori and laid the foundation for techniques and theories employed in special education. Acknowledgment of sources is found in the novel, yet the picture book seems equally well-researched. There is a difference: the novel appeals to the intellect; the picture book to the heart. Both, however, are obviously written by someone who cares deeply about the subject.
THE SUN'S DAY (1989)
Susan Hepler (review date January 1990)
SOURCE: Hepler, Susan. Review of The Sun's Day, by Mordicai Gerstein. Language Arts 67, no. 1 (January 1990): 80.
Organized, like Time To … around the hours of a day, this dazzling account of the sun's rising and setting [The Sun's Day ] presents some of what goes on in the world at each hour the sun is up. "At 7 o'clock in the morning, babies wake and want breakfast" pictures early morning on the farm with a rising sun—but wait! It is really a howling baby released into the sky by the loving cloud-hands of a mother. Throughout the book, as the sun looks down on city and country doings, people may look up at the sun which appears as a smiling kite face, a curled-up cat, a deliroll sandwich, or a ripe peach. This is a wonderful imagination-stretcher for viewers and an invitation once again to personalize with children the hours of their own days.
THE NEW CREATURES (1991)
Tina L. Burke (review date winter 1991)
SOURCE: Burke, Tina L. Review of The New Creatures, by Mordicai Gerstein. Childhood Education 68, no. 2 (winter 1991): 107.
Long ago, Grandfather tells [in The New Creatures ], there was a time when dogs and cats were masters of the earth. One dog, Herman, went exploring and returned with a herd of creatures well suited (after a little training) to fulfilling the needs of the animals. In time, they were called Herman's Beings. The bustling detail of the animals' city life is enlivened by brightly lit colors. A humorously illustrated tale with a twist. Ages 5-9.
THE SHADOW OF A FLYING BIRD: A LEGEND OF THE KURDISTANI JEWS (1994)
Hanna B. Zeiger (review date March-April 1995)
SOURCE: Zeiger, Hanna B. Review of The Shadow of a Flying Bird: A Legend of the Kurdistani Jews, by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 71, no. 2 (March-April 1995): 205-06.
Using a story found in the literature of the Kurdistani Jews, Gerstein presents a moving and evocative account of Moses and his last days on earth [in The Shadow of a Flying Bird ]. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when God showed him the Promised Land from the top of Mount Nebo and told him that he would never enter the land because he had come to the end of his days. When Moses pleads for more days, he is told that even a thousand years would seem like one day, that "'A man or woman's life is like the shadow of a flying bird.'" Closing heaven's doors and windows to the prayers of Moses, God declares, "'Everything born has a time to die. I cannot change that.'" Moses pleads with the hills and mountains and with the sun, moon, and the stars to intercede on his behalf; they answer that, in time, they too must come to an end. Thus Moses accepts his fate, but God's angels, Gabriel, Michael, and Zagzagle, are all unwilling to take Moses's soul. Only Sammael, the angel of death, wrapped "in a cape of hate, envy, and rage," is willing to go, but he is defeated by Moses's piety. Finally, the celestial presence of God descends and, with a kiss, takes Moses's soul. When God grieves over the death of his faithful servant, the angels comfort him by saying, "'In death as in life, Moses is yours,'" and Moses's soul responds, "'Always and forever!'" Gerstein's oil paintings convey the magnitude of the heavenly debate with majestic, star-strewn images of the deity in contrast to the small, sculptural figure of Moses wrapped in white robes and standing on a mountain top. This biblical legend leaves a powerful image of death as the inevitable partner of life.
BEHIND THE COUCH (1996)
Christina Dorr (review date July 1996)
SOURCE: Dorr, Christina. Review of Behind the Couch, by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 42, no. 7 (July 1996): 65.
Gr. 2-3—[In Behind the Couch, ] Wallace, Zachary's stuffed purple pig, falls behind the couch. While trying to retrieve him, the boy discovers another world—one that can be reached behind any couch. He comes upon his Uncle Yankle, who always carries pistachio nuts; Ralphine, the prettiest girl in school; troops of slippers; swarms of toy cars and trucks; grazing dust balls; the Valley of Stuffed Animals, of which Wallace is now president; and the Lost Coin Hill. After some coaxing, Wallace agrees to step down as president and come home, and Ralphine joins Zachary for dinner. Early chapter-book readers will delight in this fast-paced romp through one of the most mysterious parts of the house. Inventive, appealing pen-and-ink illustrations appear throughout.
JONAH AND THE TWO GREAT FISH (1997)
Patricia Pearl Dole (review date August 1997)
SOURCE: Dole, Patricia Pearl. Review of Jonah and the Two Great Fish, by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 43, no. 8 (August 1997): 147-48.
K-Gr. 3—A delightful version of Jonah's journey to Ninevah combines some charming legends from Jewish tradition with the basic Bible story [in Jonah and the Two Great Fish ]. The text is simple and straightforward for early readers, and makes a lively and colorful read-aloud. Jonah is first swallowed by a fish in which he lives in luxury for three days, before being swallowed again by a larger, less comfortable, variety, from which he is glad to be expelled on the shore near Ninevah. What sets the book apart from the many fine versions of the Jonah story are the enthralling oil paintings that sparkle with humor, imagination, and absorbing details. Done in a richly hued folk-art style that is sophisticated in its depiction of character and its balance and rhythm, the pictures are brimming with life and warmth. When God speaks to Jonah, his amorphous, bearded head, with a moon, star, sun, or bird to mark his eye, looms in the sky above, or his powerful, directing hand is outlined in the clouds. In a varied format, some illustrations are framed neatly, and some flow freely across double-page spreads. The typeface is clear and well spaced. Even if Peter Spier's The Book of Jonah (Doubleday, 1985; o.p.), Geoffrey Patterson's Jonah and the Whale (Lothrop, 1992), Beverly Brodsky's Jonah (Lippincott, 1977; o.p.), and Warwick Hutton's Jonah and the Great Fish (MacMillan, 1984; o.p.) are already in your collections, make room for Gerstein's Jonah as well.
Susan Dove Lempke (review date 1 October 1997)
SOURCE: Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Jonah and the Two Great Fish, by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 94, no. 3 (1 October 1997): 322.
Ages 4-8. The Old Testament story of the reluctant prophet Jonah, who runs away from God and is swallowed by a fish, is embellished and enriched by Jewish legends [in Jonah and the Two Great Fish ]. Gerstein uses two fish in this version—one luxuriously furnished inside and the other a monster, "dark and crowded"—and instead of having God merely explain His right to preserve or destroy the city of Nineveh, God helps Jonah understand that his hurt at being called a "false prophet" is not worth the lives of Nineveh's people. Gerstein nicely juxtaposes intensely colored, detailed pictures of the creatures of the sea with paintings that reflect the open spaces of the desert. The human characters are delightfully expressive, and children will be particularly interested in seeing the imaginative ways Gerstein uses natural objects, such as the sun and clouds, to reveal the face and hands of God.
STOP THOSE PANTS! (1998)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo (review date 27 April 1998)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo. Review of Stop Those Pants!, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 245, no. 17 (27 April 1998): 65-6.
In this surreal escapade, [Stop Those Pants!, ] talking trousers make life difficult for a kid who must dress for school. "I'm sick of SITTING!" Murray's jeans howl as he chases them around the bedroom. Even the boy's skivvies try to wriggle out of being worn to class ("'Not again!' wailed the underwear"). With a flash of his pale posterior, Murray struggles into the undies, then accepts an offer from his socks and T-shirt to help catch the pants. Yet nothing sways the denim demons until Murray promises them plenty of excitement: "I'll run all the way to school. I'll roll down the biggest hill in the park…. I'll fill your pockets with wonderful things. Please come down." In energetic pen-and-ink and oil drawings, the boy lunges after the bounding blue jeans, which dance lightly around the canary-yellow room; all the while, the orange gorilla face on Murray's T-shirt changes expressions, from frowning to fierce to friendly. Gerstein (Arnold and the Ducks ) humorously reasons that even inanimate objects like to have a good time. Although this may be a one-joke picture book, readers may well start to smile the next time they confess "I can't find my …" as they dress to go out. Ages 4-8.
Susan Pine (review date June 1998)
SOURCE: Pine, Susan. Review of Stop Those Pants!, by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 44, no. 6 (June 1998): 103.
K-Gr. 2—Children faced with the dreaded task of having to get out of bed and get dressed for school may welcome this slapstick story [Stop Those Pants! ]. Murray does get out of bed, but can't put his pants on because they won't let him. His socks and his underwear also refuse to be worn. They don't want to go to school and don't mind leaving the boy quite undressed, as shown from a rear point of view. He finally gets his underwear to cooperate and enlists the aid of his socks, new gorilla T-shirt, and cowboy belt to catch his jeans, which are swinging from the chandelier. Serious negotiations follow as the child offers to fill his pants pockets with a plethora of fun objects: pennies, pistachios, puzzles, etc. This suits his pants and he finally gets himself dressed and down to breakfast. Pen-and-ink and oil paintings set against a white page accompany the fast-paced story that unfolds all in dialogue. An entertaining look at morning mayhem.
Shelle Rosenfeld (review date July 1998)
SOURCE: Rosenfeld, Shelle. Review of Stop Those Pants!, by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 94, no. 21 (July 1998): 1885-86.
Ages 5-8. Rebellion? It's all in the jeans in this witty look at unexpected delays in getting dressed [in Stop Those Pants! ]. When Murray's mom calls him for breakfast, he reaches for his pants, but they're hiding and won't come out: they're bored just sitting around all day and are looking for some fun and action. Socks and T-shirt hop around the room just outside Murray's grasp. Faced with obstinate, taunting pants on strike and reluctant underpants, shirt, and socks, Murray decides that if he can't exactly catch them, perhaps he can convince them to cooperate. A compromise is reached, and clothes and Murray at last hit the breakfast table in harmony. Kids will enjoy following the pants as they and Murray play hide-and-seek. The colorful illustrations are fun, energetic, and detail-filled, making the ritual (or chore, to some) of getting dressed a high-flying adventure. Warning: Not for the faint of heart or those scared by bundles of clothes in the night and the possibility of their ability to move on their own; here, their worst fears are realized. But the story also shows the importance of being brave, persistent, and sharp, and of not being outwitted and manipulated, especially by one's underpants.
VICTOR: A NOVEL BASED ON THE LIFE OF THE SAVAGE OF AVEYRON (1998)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo (review date 13 July 1998)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo. Review of Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 245, no. 28 (13 July 1998): 79.
In southern France in 1800, hunters capture a naked, filthy and speechless pre-adolescent boy [in Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron ], whom they bring into town slung from a pole. Eventually he is taken to Paris and placed in a school for deaf boys. There his alleged obliviousness to anything but food and nature cause doctors to label him an idiot, and he languishes, ignored, until a young doctor, Jean-Marc Itard, takes the boy into his care. Drawing on historical sources, Gerstein (The Wild Boy ) gives an arresting account of Itard's variously enlightened and bumbling (at times, cruel) efforts to socialize the boy, whom he names Victor, and to control his subsequent "explosive puberty." This makes for compelling intellectual and social history, with a vividly limned setting, peppered with disquieting ruminations on the nature of humanity, God, love and sexuality, as well as gruesome tidbits about the French Revolution. As a novel, however, it is ultimately unsatisfying because Gerstein jumps ahead in time from the close of Itard's six-year study of Victor to a penultimate scene just before the subject's untimely death at age 40. Thus, he summarily disposes of his protagonists (e.g., a melodramatic subplot involving the housekeeper's daughter reads like a cobbled-on "teen problem" story, then peters out just as it gets interesting; Itard's one romance takes place offstage). Rather than imagining the inner life of his characters, Gerstein keeps readers at arm's length; Victor and Itard remain enigmas. For mature readers. Ages 12-up.
Jennifer A. Fakolt (review date October 1998)
SOURCE: Fakolt, Jennifer A. Review of Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron, by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 44, no. 10 (October 1998): 135.
Gr. 9-Up—Based on the true story of a feral child captured in Revolutionary-era France and the doctor who attempted to civilize him, Victor offers an intense and intelligent look at the nature of humanity. Caught initially by two woodcutters in rural Aveyron, the boy is sent to Paris where he is studied and an attempt is made to teach him to communicate. Young Dr. Itard dubs his charge Victor, and sees in him an opportunity to prove that "the savage" is neither an idiot, nor incapable of "learning" humanity. He begins a rigorous regimen of experiments to awaken Victor to society and give him speech. The boy's progress is slow and troubled by increasing instances of his "explosive puberty" in which his intrusive masturbation disrupts lessons and raises Itard's ire. The doctor's methods are often Pavlovian and cruel, and ultimately unjust. Itard's housekeeper is the only one to show true affection for Victor. Characters are dispassionately distanced from readers, making it difficult to sympathize with their conflicts. Itard's ego, his own sexual frustrations, and his use of his pupil as a tool toward his own success make his status as hero educator somewhat ironic. Victor, himself, remains an enigma: his thoughts, rendered in short, often incomplete sentences offer little more than delight and happiness found in a slant of sun or sweetness of a berry. Both Victor's absence of self-reflection and the doctor's selfish idealism give fuel to the question of the nature of man, but provide rather disturbing answers. A dark, often complex novel for older readers that is well worth the time, effort, and thought that the subject demands.
Roger Leslie (review date 1 October 1998)
SOURCE: Leslie, Roger. Review of Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron, by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 95, no. 3 (1 October 1998): 324.
Gr. 7-12. During the hostile years of the French Revolution, a naked wild boy is discovered in the woods and captured by villagers who taunt the soon-famous "Savage of Aveyron" [in Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron ]. A local teacher of the deaf, Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, adopts the savage, names him Victor, and sets out to transform the wild boy into a civilized man with moral acuity. Grueling, disheartening years of lessons do more than alter Victor's life: they redefine Itard's philosophies of medicine and education previously colored by the Revolution. Although the parameters of this true story are defined by Victor's presence, the more meaningful focus is on Itard, whose work with Victor is regarded even today as the model for special education. However, Itard is so stoic that his battles with Victor and his subsequent moral struggles seldom resonate with much power for readers. Despite its emotional remoteness, the story remains intriguing thanks to well-researched details, shifting points of view, and narration that includes speeches, letters, and firsthand accounts of the taxing daily lessons Victor—and Itard—endured. Gerstein takes on the story of Victor in a book for younger readers, as well.
THE WILD BOY (1998)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo (review date 13 July 1998)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo. Review of The Wild Boy, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 245, no. 28 (13 July 1998): 77.
Nature and civilization collide in this thought-provoking picture book [The Wild Boy ] based on the story of a boy discovered living alone in the mountain forests of southern France in 1800. Hunters are first to see the boy scampering in the woods, where he had survived on plants and berries and the icy mountain-stream water. Captured, the boy is later brought to Paris's Institute for Deaf-Mutes, where experts test and examine him, and finally determine that he is "hopeless." Happily, one doctor thinks otherwise and welcomes the boy into his home, teaching him skills and caring for him. "He will never learn to speak," the doctor eventually realizes. "He was alone in the silent woods too long. But he has learned to have feelings, and they can be hurt." Gerstein's (The Story of May ) detailed and informative text clearly reflects a wealth of research; he is simultaneously publishing a novel, Victor, on the same subject. The smoothly paced writing sustains a mysterious and sometimes melancholy tone, in keeping with its subject matter. In loose-lined panel illustrations, Gerstein conveys an arc of emotions. He depicts the unrestrained joy of the boy cavorting nude in his natural surroundings, while scenes of capture are suitably darkened. Ultimately, the boy's home life in Paris appears warm and bright. Young readers will be fascinated, perhaps even spurred to further investigate the facts behind the story. Ages 5-up.
Michael Cart (review date 1 October 1998)
SOURCE: Cart, Michael. Review of The Wild Boy, by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 95, no. 3 (1 October 1998):322.
Ages 6-8, older for reading alone. In the year 1800, an authentic wild child was captured near the village of Saint-Sernin in the south of France [in The Wild Boy ]. How the boy had survived, naked and alone in the forest, remains a mystery to this day. More to the point: when his case continued to baffle leading scientists of the day, the boy was declared hopelessly retarded and remanded to an institution. There, he caught the eye and imagination of a young doctor named Jean-Marc Itard, who adopted the child and named him Victor. Inspired by both the historical case and Francois Truffaut's 1970 movie, The Wild Child, Gerstein has written and illustrated a haunting and sometimes heartbreaking version. Cinematic in the layout and design of its beautifully colored illustrations, The Wild Boy is masterful in capturing Victor's passionate love for the wilderness and contrasting it with the hideous bleakness of the "civilized" existence he must endure until his adoption by Itard. Gerstein's prose finds power in its simplicity and emotional resonance in its declarative understatement: "He loved the icy water from the mountain streams and drank with his chin touching the mossy rocks." Meanwhile, the narrative strength and energy of the illustrations expand the inherent drama of Victor's situation. Together, Gerstein's text and pictures work to create an unforgettable story that engages the empathy of readers while stimulating their imaginations. Gerstein's novel about Victor is reviewed in the Older Readers section in this issue.
THE ABSOLUTELY AWFUL ALPHABET (1999)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo (review date 15 March 1999)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo. Review of The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 11 (15 March 1999): 57.
With each letter more hideous and mean than the last, this alphabet [The Absolutely Awful Alphabet ] will supply kids with an abundance of insults. Gerstein (Stop Those Pants! ) fashions each letter as an imaginary creature, from the scaly "awfully arrogant Amphibian" A to the striped, grinning "zigzagging zoological Zany" Z. He also links the letters; the "hideously Horrible" H hates "impossible Ignoramus" I, who is irritated by J, and so on. Gerstein panders to the baser impulses with gleeful good cheer: his vegetable vampire, an ear of corn with pointy teeth, is especially silly. The bright oil portraits of the vile characters may well fire young imaginations. Ages 4-8.
Hazel Rochman (review date 1 April 1999)
SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Review of The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 95, no. 15 (1 April 1999): 1416.
Gr. 1-3. Each letter of the alphabet is a monster, one monster per page [in The Absolutely Awful Alphabet ]. The joy of invective and insult is in the alliterative words ("a cruel cantankerous Carnivore craving to consume"). The relish of hideous creatures is in the neon-colored oil illustrations with meticulous pen-and-ink details of nail, claw, whisker, and slobbering tongue. Twenty-six examples is a bit too many: whatever the individual variations and the connections between the letters, after a while even the grotesque gets to be a bit repetitive. However, kids who enjoy the seething sounds of the words and the ghastly, gorgeous pictures of the dreadfully dangerous, drooling demons will want to join in with their own ferocious alphabet play.
Robin L. Gibson (review date May 1999)
SOURCE: Gibson, Robin L. Review of The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 45, no. 5 (May 1999): 106.
K-Gr. 4—An alliterative abecedarian featuring some fairly ferocious fiends. Each letter [in The Absolutely Awful Alphabet ], illustrated in oil with pen and ink, occupies a full page and poses some sort of threat to the following letter. While some of the characters are merely goofy, like L, "a lanky, lazy Loony in love …", others are more frightening, such as C, "a cruel, cantankerous Carnivore craving to consume…." Gerstein's language is marvelous and can be best appreciated when read aloud. Only a few letters fall a bit flat; Y is a "yucky young Yokel." The advanced vocabulary and the nature of the illustrations make this title more suited to older children, who will be better able to appreciate Gerstein's inspired silliness and exuberant monsters, than as a book to help younger children learn the alphabet.
NOAH AND THE GREAT FLOOD (1999)
GraceAnne A. DeCandido (review date 1 January 1999)
SOURCE: DeCandido, GraceAnne A. Review of Noah and the Great Flood, by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 95, nos. 9-10 (1 January 1999): 881-82.
Ages 5-9. There seems to be no end of books about Noah, and no wonder: what an opportunity for artists and tellers to portray the mercy of God, the perversity of humankind, a multitude of animals, and a nifty ark. Gerstein's [Noah and the Great Flood ]is a radiant version of the familiar tale, incorporating many Jewish legends that elaborate on the biblical version. "It is told," Gerstein begins, that Noah was born with light streaming from his eyes, in a world populated by giants who had human mothers and angel fathers. Only Noah, his wife, and three sons were good and kind. God speaks to Noah through the great, round reddish gold sun, telling him to build an ark to save himself and his family and two each of all creatures, for God will destroy the world by flood. Noah discovers that the wood for the ark cuts itself and the nails know where to go; and the animals come when it is time, even the "ogs," who must travel on the roof, and the "rayeems,' who are pulled behind the ark. When Noah feeds the lions, one grows impatient and strikes him on the leg, so he limps ever after. The little, blue winged "urshanas" tell Noah he can feed the others first, and he blesses them saying, "May the Lord let you live forever," and so they did, but no one knows where. The oil-on-vellum paintings have an inner luminosity and are full of all manner of enchanting pattern. However, literal-minded children and adults will wonder how the world began again after the flood when the only woman aboard is Noah's wife; the sons' wives are nowhere in evidence.
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo (review date 22 February 1999)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Cindi Di Marzo. Review of Noah and the Great Flood, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 8 (22 February 1999): 86.
The Old Testament tale of Noah's ark gets some extra oomph in this exuberant picture book rendition [Noah and the Great Flood ]. Employing legends from the Jewish tradition, Gerstein (The Wild Boy ) embellishes the story and its unique and vibrant setting. Readers quickly enter an ancient world populated with humans (Noah and his kin among them) who routinely live to be hundreds of years old, a band of ugly, rogue giants who are half-human and half-angel, and bizarre-looking animals of every size and color. When the giants prove to be continually cruel, selfish and violent, and do not heed God's warnings, He decides to rid the earth of them by creating a great flood. He spares Noah by instructing him to build an ark and take his family and two of each living thing on board. Children and adults will marvel at this entertaining text, discovering eye-opening elements at every turn: Noah invents the shovel, hoe and plow; he marries at the age of 498; a jeweled instruction manual and seemingly magical tools aid in the ark's construction. Gerstein's oil paintings also have a bold energy. His hideous giants—some of them Cyclops—could rival any Halloween creation and the grand animals known as ogs, which sit on top of the ark, and rayeems, which swim behind it, are fantastic. Families will find this spirited interpretation one to pore over. Ages 5-10.
Jennifer M. Brabander (review date March-April 1999)
SOURCE: Brabander, Jennifer M. Review of Noah and the Great Flood, by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 75, no. 2 (March-April 1999): 222-23.
As he did in Jonah and the Two Great Fish, Gerstein augments a story from the Hebrew Bible with elements from Jewish legend [in Noah and the Great Flood ]. The legends lend fantastical details to Gerstein's retelling: prismatic light beams out of Noah's eyes at his birth; the ark helps build itself; and "animals no one knew existed" file on board. Surprisingly, these details make the story seem more real, not less, serving to flesh out the bare-bones account from the Bible. Substance is also provided in the illustrations, which depict God in a comprehensible manner; as in Jonah, the sun in the sky is the eye of God—fitting for a God known to appear as a burning flame. Fluffy white clouds or dark storm clouds and lightning surround the eye, creating apt facial expressions. The illustrations also offer concrete evidence of Noah's goodness, through his physical resemblance to the God he worships: spikes of Noah's bright orange hair and his long flowing beard form a sunlike array around his balding head. The true selves of the people who anger God are also revealed in the artwork—Gerstein portrays them as gruesome giants and one-eyed Cyclopses, their outward ugliness a sign of their inner cruelty. Prisoners of their own hatred, they wear black-striped clothing that makes them look like inmates. Refreshingly, Gerstein fails to give his retelling a trendy environmental or moralistic slant, and instead recognizes the real reason for Noah's staying power: it's simply a blockbuster of a story, with a noble hero, evil villains, death at sea, a promise of undying love, and an unsinkable boat of titanic proportions.
Torrie Hodgson (review date April 1999)
SOURCE: Hodgson, Torrie. Review of Noah and the Great Flood, by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 45, no. 4 (April 1999): 113.
PreS-Gr. 2—A colorful interpretation of one of the most well-known stories in the Old Testament [Noah and the Great Flood ]. The narrative is woven together from the biblical accounts of Noah and legends in the Jewish tradition. Compared to some of the more traditional accounts in which Noah appears as an elderly man, this Noah seems more akin to a force of nature with his sweeping gestures, flowing robes, and flame-red hair and beard. The wicked masses are portrayed as giant blue and green ogres rather than wayward people and the angels figure more prominently than in other versions. However, the most unusual aspect of this retelling is Noah's ultimatum when the rains end, "… we won't come out unless you promise that there will never be another flood like this one…." Beautiful full-color oil paintings enliven the story and varied page layouts provide additional visual interest. Purchase this for collections needing more Jewish folklore or looking for an interpretation with a different twist.
ALBERT AND THE ANGELS (2000)
Gillian Engberg (review date 15 September 2000)
SOURCE: Engberg, Gillian. Review of Albert and the Angels, by Leslie Norris, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 97, no. 2 (15 September 2000): 243.
Gr. 4-6, younger for reading aloud. Eight-year-old Albert wants to give his mother the best Christmas gift she's ever gotten [in Albert and the Angels ]: a replacement for her grandmother's long-lost gold medallion. With his talking dachshund Lucille, whom he alone can hear, he plays his flute on the holiday streets trying to earn money for the present. He collects a dollar and buys a trinket, which he loses on the way home. As he and Lucille search for the lost pendant late on Christmas Eve, they encounter an angelic boy, who magically transports them to a warehouse of found property where Albert retrieves the pendant from a Santa-like proprietor. The next morning, Albert's mother unwraps the box to find her original medallion, lost years ago, and the day ends in surprised happiness. Although the story's leisurely pace may be too slow for some children, the rich, descriptive text will appeal to intermediate readers, particularly those experiencing their own seasonal anxieties and desires to please. Most compelling, however, is the story's magic—the night adventure, the talking pet, the mysterious gift—all wonderfully realized in Gerstein's nostalgic, ink-and-paint artwork.
Elizabeth Devereaux (review date 25 September 2000)
SOURCE: Devereaux, Elizabeth. Review of Albert and the Angels, by Leslie Norris, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 39 (25 September 2000): 72, 74.
Norris's (Norris's Ark) brightly polished tale of a boy who yearns to buy his mother a special present [Albert and the Angels ] sparkles with Christmas magic. Aided by his trusted talking dachshund, Lucille, Albert manages to earn enough money to replace his mother's long-vanished gold medallion. When he loses the present in the snow, his desperate attempts to find it are rewarded by an angelic visitor. The decisive lines and the flurry of motion in Gerstein's (The Wild Boy ) witty pen-and-ink and oil illustrations bolster an already lively text. Ages 5-up.
Maureen Wade (review date October 2000)
SOURCE: Wade, Maureen. Review of Albert and the Angels, by Leslie Norris, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 46, no. 10 (October 2000): 62.
Gr. 2-4—With a message that is reminiscent of O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi," this slight fantasy [Albert and the Angels ] is not a necessary purchase. Just before Christmas, eight-year-old Albert and his talking dachshund raise just enough money to buy a cheap replacement for a gold medallion that his mother had gotten as a child and lost long ago. Then he misplaces the replacement, and goes out again on Christmas Eve to try and find it. A boy appears and guides him to a building with a sign on the door that says "A. N. Angel, Found Property…."He learns from the proprietor that because of his selfless perseverance, he can have the original lost medallion. Full-page expressive and charming watercolor illustrations accompany this pleasant but loosely plotted and somewhat plodding short story.
Lauren Adams (review date November-December 2000)
SOURCE: Adams, Lauren. Review of Albert and the Angels, by Leslie Norris, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 76, no. 6 (November-December 2000): 761.
[Albert and the Angels ] is a Christmas fable with all the classic elements: the spirit of giving, an angel or two, an unexpected miracle, and a talking dog. (OK—maybe not the dog.) In the weeks before Christmas, Albert attempts to earn money to buy his mother a gold medallion like the one she lost as a child; by Christmas Eve his grand total is still only eighty-three cents and a foreign coin. When a kind policeman gives him a dollar instead of arresting him for playing his flute on the street, Albert and dachshund friend Lucille (whom only Albert can hear speak) set out shopping, but find they can only afford a cheap substitute for his mother's delicate medallion. After Albert loses even that in the snow on the way home, the angels step in to offer their miracle. Lucille's pithy comments and steadfast friendship give the familiar elements of the story a fresh lift, and Gerstein's full-page illustrations convey the easy balance of the magical and the everyday. His renderings of the bare trees, drifting leaves, and icy blue-and-white snow storms are just as effective as his portrayals of the snooty jeweler who tosses Albert and Lucille from his store and the round, jolly angel with the infinite and orderly warehouse of found property. Though the chatty canine is new, a requisite component of the old-fashioned Christmas tale remains: the happy ending in the warmth of home and family.
THE JAR OF FOOLS: EIGHT HANUKKAH STORIES FROM CHELM (2000)
Elizabeth Devereaux (review date 25 September 2000)
SOURCE: Devereaux, Elizabeth. Review of The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 39 (25 September 2000): 66.
Despite the subtitle, a number of the entries [in The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm ] are well-known folktales given an arbitrary Hanukkah or Chelm setting. For example, "Stone Soup" reappears, but features latkes. Three original tales rather pointedly ask if the bumblers of Chelm are not wise indeed, portraying their fabled foolishness as innocence and goodness of heart. But though the storytelling falls short of the standards of Kimmel's 1998 A Hanukkah Treasury, it is assured and expansive. Gerstein's (Albert and the Angels, reviewed p. 72) dynamic pen-and-ink and oil illustrations (one per entry) play up the farcial elements; readers will enjoy watching the progress of his eight recurring characters. All ages.
Susan P. Bloom (review date September-October 2000)
SOURCE: Bloom, Susan P. Review of The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 76, no. 5 (September-October 2000): 587-98.
Folkmeister Eric Kimmel pays a visit to Chelm at Hanukkah time [in The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm ], accompanied by illustrator Mordicai Gerstein. Together they serve up a delicious pastiche of eight tales, one for each night, about that foolish realm. The towns' denizens boast names like Simon and Esther Goose, Stupid Shmelke and Berel Dunce. Gerstein outfits the zany citizens with colanders and fry pans for hats, neckwear of three bananas, a necklace of bagels, and footwear ranging from lilac roller skates to cross-eyed mouse moccasins. Although nonsense abounds, Kimmel's sure sense of the potential of wisdom even among the most foolish brings sweetness and lightness to these tales: here in Chelm, community reigns, and these silly folk treat one another with loyalty and kindness. In a variant of "Stone Soup," a stranger's "magic" spoon yields delicious latkes for all as the stranger asks for a pinch of salt, a handful of meal, eggs, onion, and potatoes from the eager citizens. If they are duped when the stranger lends Chelm the spoon for cash collateral and never returns, they are duped together. Kimmel alerts us in an author's note to the mixture of his collection: a dollop of retellings of traditional Yiddish tales, a soupçon of reworkings from other cultures, blended with three original stories. The last tale, a Kimmel creation, brings all the stories together, pronouncing the great joy of celebration in Chelm where the people light a hayfork menorah, make latkes from nothing, spin letterless dreidels, and "dance night and day to music that they alone can hear."
Teri Markson (review date October 2000)
SOURCE: Markson, Teri. Review of The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 46, no. 10 (October 2000): 64-5.
K-Gr. 4—Kimmel's voice in these stories is so authentic that it is hard to distinguish the retellings from the new selections [in The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm ]. He says in his author's note, "Writing a good Chelm story is a challenge. You almost have to think like a Chelmer to do it." Who else would figure out that a dreidel needs no letters or that a hay fork can contain the soul of a menorah? Who but a resident of Chelm could outwit a Cossack with a piece of cheese, or find true wisdom in a barrel of rotten herring? And leave it to the townspeople to honor their wisest citizen with a pair of golden slippers to wear on his ears. Gerstein's cartoonlike, ink-on-oil-paint depiction of the town's inhabitants are as brightly drawn and silly as the stories themselves. However, as Kimmel notes in the title story, what we all take for foolishness may simply be wisdom beyond understanding. Whatever the case, this collection is a true gem, perfect for sharing and reading aloud, and if readers can keep themselves from devouring it in one fell swoop, they might discover that it contains enough spirit, laughter, and pathos to last all eight nights of Hanukkah.
THE JAR OF FOOLS: THE STORY OF PURIM (2000)
Ellen Mandel (review date 15 December 1999)
SOURCE: Mandel, Ellen. Review of Queen Esther, the Morning Star, by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 96, no. 8 (15 December 1999): 787.
Ages 6-8. Bejeweled in the arabesque patterns of ancient Persia, Gerstein's exuberant art injects humor and vitality into the biblical tale of Queen Esther [in Queen Esther, the Morning Star ]. Just as successful is his vivid storytelling, which makes readers appreciate the heroics of the queen and her cousin Mordecai, who face the frivolous King Ahasuerus and his evil prime minister, Haman. The elaborately detailed, soft-hued gouache paintings and the dramatic text are beautifully displayed across the pages, bringing zest and flair to the ancient story of the Jewish celebration of Purim.
Elizabeth Devereaux (review date 21 February 2000)
SOURCE: Devereaux, Elizabeth. Review of Queen Esther, the Morning Star, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 247, no. 8 (21 February 2000): 53-4.
Gerstein's (The Wild Boy ; Noah and the Great Flood ) dynamic, evocatively illustrated retelling mines the tale of Purim for its rich stores of drama and suspense, as evil Haman's feints and threats are neatly parried and foiled by Esther and Mordecai. Imaginatively recalling the biblical setting, the illustrations [in Queen Esther, the Morning Star ] take inspiration from Persian miniatures, and the stylized characters (a scowling Haman, a reticent Esther, a stiff-necked Mordecai) hint at the costume-party aspect of a Purim celebration, their exaggerated, relatively constant expressions suggesting the masks and disguises worn by children to synagogue. The writing proceeds at a masterly pace, each element developed with relish. Emphasizing the narrative twists and turns more than religious themes, this volume could be enjoyed at any time of year—and, as implied by the use of the words "Old Testament" in an author's note, the target audience is not specifically Jewish. Ages 5-10.
Susan Scheps (review date April 2000)
SOURCE: Scheps, Susan. Review of Queen Esther, the Morning Star, by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 46, no. 4 (April 2000): 119-20.
Gr. 2-5—Gerstein has retold and illustrated the Biblical story of the Jewish girl who became Queen of Persia and saved her people from genocide at the hands of an evil prime minister [in Queen Esther, the Morning Star ]. He has followed the Old Testament tale closely, adding only a dream of two battling dragons and the morning star that awakens Mordecai to the fact that his cousin Esther must approach the king and beg him to save her people. Detailed, gouache cartoon illustrations in a palette of muted pastel colors are filled with pattern, effecting a strong Persian flavor. Most pages are bordered in a parchment yellow that's reminiscent of the Hebrew Book of Esther (the megillah), which is printed on a parchment roll and read in synagogues on the eve of Purim. While the king is shown as a jolly, round fellow, hawk-nosed, white-faced, pointy-bearded Haman is a grotesque, Punchlike character whose raven-haired wife resembles a witch. His traditional tricornered hat, which dictates the shape of the hamantaschen pastries served on the holiday, appears here as a tallmiter. An author's note offers some facts about the characters and the celebration. This appealing retelling is appropriate for both public library and Judaic collections.
FOX EYES (2001)
Janice M. Del Negro (review date September 2001)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of Fox Eyes, by Mordicai Gerstein. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 55, no. 1 (September 2001): 14.
Young Martin is spending the month of August with his great aunt Zavella "in her grand, rickety, old house in the mountains" [in Fox Eyes ]. He enjoys tramping through the woods, listening to his aunt's stories from "the Old Country," and playing his violin, especially when he finds that a local fox is drawn to his melodies. Sharpnose the fox enjoys the woods, too, but he longs to be a human with human hands, to play the violin, and maybe to get his hands on one or two of Aunt Zavella's chickens. Despite Zavella's warnings, Martin falls prey to Sharpnose's foxy tricks, finding himself inside the fox's body and Sharpnose inside the boy. Boy/fox and fox/boy take advantage of their respective transformations: Martin enjoys the smells, sounds, and speed he can experience as a fox; Sharpnose eats almost more than he can hold of Zavella's good cooking (two chickens!) and then dashes upstairs to play the violin. Gerstein's easy chapter book opens with whimsy, but the matter-of-factness of his prose (and the solid character of Aunt Zavella) anchors the fantasy. Full-page black-and-white line drawings featuring a lively Martin and a scruffily attractive fox enhance each chapter.
I AM ARACHNE: FIFTEEN GREEK AND ROMAN MYTHS (2001)
Angela J. Reynolds (review date May 2001)
SOURCE: Reynolds, Angela J. Review of I am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths, by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 47, no. 5 (May 2001): 171.
Gr. 7-10—These tales [in I am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths ] are presented as first-person accounts, each one no more than six pages, accompanied by a lighthearted drawing that adds little to the story. The softest version is presented—Arachne does not kill herself; Pandora suffers no consequences for her actions; and Midas never touches his daughter, sparing her his golden curse. In addition, the author sometimes ends up spelling out details. Some of the segments are true to the ancient world, while others include anachronisms such as newspapers. It is difficult to determine who the intended audience may be, as the writing is simple, yet some of the versions are a bit sophisticated, and readers familiar with these myths will better appreciate the point of view adopted in the tellings.
Wendy Doniger (review date 20 May 2001)
SOURCE: Doniger, Wendy. Review of I am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths, by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. New York Times Book Review (20 May 2001): 24.
There are two stupid reasons adults often use in foisting Greek myths on children: the Santa Claus argument—children are gullible enough for them, and the Oxbridge argument—they are our cultural heritage. The first, like so many bad ideas, derives from Plato, and the second, like other bad ideas, from British colonial educational practices. In truth it is adults, not children, who have found Greek myths to be sources of great inspiration, and the messages contained in these stories should be, for the most part, X-rated. Yet people persist in trying to find ways to present them to children—Bulfinch and Edith Hamilton were the ones I grew up with—because they are fascinating stories, full of deep human wisdom.
Jeanne Steig and her husband, William Steig, the New Yorker cartoonist and legendary children's book author, who collaborated on the fairy-tale collection "A Handful of Beans," have selected 16 myths for A Gift from Zeus. Elizabeth Spires and Mordicai Gerstein, both of whom have written other books for children, though not together, have selected 15 myths for I am Arachne. Six myths appear in both books: the tales of Prometheus and Pandora, Demeter and Persephone, Midas, Arachne, Echo and Narcissus, and Orpheus and Eurydice. In addition, the Steigs have selected other well-known stories, several with erotic themes, while Spires and Gerstein have selected more obscure and varied ones. Both provide a cast list.
A Gift from Zeus abounds in subtleties of language and humor that only the parents will catch, though the children will surely enjoy the ingenious rhymes and, of course, the exciting stories. The book is delightful. The stories are woven together into one seamless tale in which the prose is fresh and charming, the occasional verses inspired and the illustrations spectacular.
When Prometheus asks Zeus what mortals are like, Zeus replies: "Rather like us, but less so…. Absolutely no wings." When Zeus asks Hades who Perse-phone is, Hades replies: "My niece. Yours, too, come to think of it. And her mother's." The prose enchants and speaks of enchantment enchantingly, as when Orpheus plays his lyre and "rivers twisted like eels in their beds to come to him, and the wild beasts lay at his feet, beating time with their paws."
The verse, too, is great fun; Pandora releases from her box a wonderful series of rhymed substances, including (somewhat reminiscent of Julie Andrews singing "These are a few of my favorite things") "Blight and Sciatica, Gallstones, Tight Shoes … Anchovies, Avarice, Dudgeon, The Blues."
As for the drawings, my favorite, though I loved them all, was the amazing picture of Demeter raging and all the little animals dead on their backs, with a dead duck plunging straight down out of the sky, illustrating the line "Every living thing withered and died." A delightful sense of fun pervades; no wonder that, in a rare liberty taken with the Greek (more often Roman) tellings, we read that Pandora trapped laughter as well as hope in her box.
The tone of I am Arachne is not nearly so successful; it talks down to both the myths and the children. The use of the first person to let the characters tell their own stories demonstrates the difference between a gimmick and a concept: this is a gimmick, and it doesn't work, except for Narcissus, who is delightfully stupid and self-revealing in his vanity. The writing is for the most part listless, except in the first story, about Arachne, where a series of rhymes is cleverly sneaked past the reader and worked into the prose ("Do you like what I've done? My lines glisten and shimmer like diamonds in the sun"). The black-and-white sketches are murky and dreary.
More serious, the life of the myths is often censored out of them; the misogyny of the Pandora story, its main point, is erased and replaced by some terrible doggerel about Hope ("I am Hope, / I'm white and true. / Believe me / When I tell you"). Why white? one might ask, among other things. There is a peppering of Greek names that makes the book appear more "grown-up" (as do the smaller type, thinner paper and notes distinguishing Greek myths from Roman), in comparison with the Steig book, which has the feel of a children's book (large print, heavy pages, minimal Greek or Latin terms), but looks can be deceiving; the Steigs tell it like it is.
This is most apparent in the treatment of illicit sex in the myths, which has always bothered people, beginning with the Greeks themselves. I am Arachne treats it with kid gloves. When Pan is about to rape Syrinx, he grabs her around the waist and says, "Syrinx, let's get married!," evoking a vision of eloping to Atlantic City or to a little church filled with flowers. Similarly, Narcissus talks about Zeus having "a private picnic with the nymphs," and when Aurora kisses Endymion, next thing you know they have 50 daughters.
Yet in I am Arachne (but not in A Gift from Zeus), the episode with Echo is prefaced by the episode in which Narcissus falls in love with a beautiful boy (or so he thinks: his own reflection) and kisses him on the lips, and Pomona blushes when a woman (or so she thinks: actually Vertumnus in a dress) kisses her on the lips.
The Steigs, by contrast, take off the gloves. When Hades came for Kore, they say, "on the ravaged earth he ravaged the girl, swept her into his chariot with her gown torn and her body bloodied." Apollo "lusted" for Daphne, and when Zeus becomes a swan for Leda, there is "a foaming of feathers, a churning of wings and limbs," after which Leda, who still has a feather in her hair, remarks: "Rude. And highly unsatisfactory."
In the tale of Pygmalion—which includes the prelude, often omitted, of the creation of the first prostitutes, who are then turned to stone—Pygmalion traces with his fingers the "delicate nipples" of the statue he loves. Zeus as a bull "had his way" with Europa. Arachne recites the bestial affairs of the gods, "Tricked out as river, lion, ram, / Without so much as 'thank you, ma'am.'" Myrrha justifies to herself her incestuous (and consummated) desire for her father.
This stuff is not for kids.
More troublesome, however, is the Steigs' gloss on the rape of Aethra, first by Aegeus (a seduction that her father sets up by getting her drunk) and then by Poseidon: "Perhaps 'ravish' is not quite the appropriate word; there is no reason to assume that this double deflowerment was the least bit distasteful to the former virgin." We recognize this as the rape mentality, and we do not want to teach it to our children.
On the other hand, the one thing that the Steigs do bowdlerize is child abuse: they tell us that Medea's children were accidentally burned to death, whereas the Greek myth tells us that she killed them herself. In fact, this point has been revised by many of the later retellings of Medea, though not for the sake of the children.
What sort of children are these books suited for? Spires's publisher suggests "8 and up," and the Steigs claim to be for all ages. The language of both books is for the most part accessible to precocious children on the shady side of 8, though I would have said "38 and up" for some of the Steigs' more perverse tales. But perhaps, as the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim argued, it is best to tell these stories to our children, who have themselves imagined all of them and far worse and are comforted by learning that others, too, have imagined them. If so, A Gift from Zeus is a wonderful way to tell them, as well as a great bedtime read for the parents.
Janice M. Del Negro (review date June 2001)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of I am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths, by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 54, no. 10 (June 2001): 387-88.
Spires retells fifteen classical myths [in I am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths ]—Arachne, Pandora, King Midas, Callisto, etc.—in the first person, each tale narrated by the story's protagonist. This is an interesting if not untried approach to myths and legends (Orgel's We Goddesses, BCCB 11/99; McClaren's Waiting for Odysseus, 2/00), and making the pantheon personal sometimes results in more accessible tales. These retellings, unfortunately, are oversimplified and repetitive; the choppy monologues lack momentum, and the tone is anachronistic. Full-page black-and-white line drawings open each tale, and while the featured characters are expressively rendered, the scribbly lines are sometimes overly busy. On the plus side, the sentences are short and the language is direct, making the stories much easier for younger readers to access. Spires doesn't include any source notes, but there is a glossary of names and places.
Joanna Rudge Long (review date September-October 2001)
SOURCE: Long, Joanna Rudge. Review of I am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths, by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 5 (September-October 2001): 604.
"Have you seen the evening newspapers? Yes, that's Orpheus they're talking about … I'm Eurydice, his wife. I was married to Orpheus for about fifteen minutes when I was bitten by a poisonous snake and brought down to the underworld." These breezy retellings of Greek and Roman myths, [I am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths, ] each voiced by one of its protagonists, are brief: Pandora's apologia runs a mere four pages; Pan's tale of his pursuit of the nymph Syrinx just three (she escapes by becoming a reed, only to be fashioned into Pan's flute). The informal contemporary tone can be amusingly anachronistic (Sisyphus: "Perhaps, if I talk fast, I can tell you why I'm here before Pluto puts me back to work"). Spires offers no specific sources but sticks close to the usual outlines—though Pandora keeps Hope trapped in the box, afraid of what the just-released Doubt and Despair might do to Hope "out in the world." Gerstein's full-page pen drawings are lively with action; like the text, they scrap heroism in favor of engaging humor. Though adding little to the literature of Greek myth, these piquant versions will attract a broad range of readers, while their playful manipulation of point of view is entertainingly provocative.
A HARE-RAISING TAIL (2002)
Hannah Hoppe (review date January 2003)
SOURCE: Hoppe, Hannah. Review of A Hare-Raising Tail, by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 49, no. 1 (January 2003): 98.
Gr. 2-4—Jill and Gwen from the popular "Something Queer" series (Hyperion) now appear in a beginning chapter book [in A Hare-Raising Tail ]. The story centers around Jill's dog, Fletcher, who tells the story. There are many things that set him apart from your average basset hound: his best friend is a flea named Jasper and the color pattern of his fur looks like a map of the world. When the girls decide to take Fletcher to school for their geography lesson, he is blamed when the class's pet rabbit is suddenly missing. If he can't prove his innocence, it's back to the pound. Once again, Levy weaves a mystery that will capture chapter-book audiences. Full-page, black-and-white cartoons plus spot art capture the classroom antics and the pup's antics and dilemma.
THE PRINCIPAL'S ON THE ROOF (2002)
Marilyn Ackerman (review date January 2003)
SOURCE: Ackerman, Marilyn. Review of The Principal's on the Roof, by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 49, no. 1 (January 2003):98.
Gr. 2-4—[In The Principal's on the Roof, ] basset hound Fletcher and his flea sidekick Jasper solve a new case. Fletcher's 10-year-old owner, Jill, and her friend Gwen are enthusiastic about the upcoming reading marathon. Their principal, Mr. Leonard, has promised to read aloud on the school's roof when students have read 1000 books, and he agrees to read Gwen's story, "The Mystery on the Roof." But when he starts sneezing uncontrollably and cannot read, Gwen is suspected of foul play. The animal detectives save the day when Fletcher correctly suspects that Alice, a cat jealous of her family's new baby, is on the roof and that the principal is allergic to felines. Fletcher's narration includes many humorous observations about human behavior. The comic line drawings and decorative typeface (indicating Alice "singing the blues") hit the right note. A solid selection.
WHAT CHARLIE HEARD (2002)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton (review date 28 January 2002)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton. Review of What Charlie Heard, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 4 (28 January 2002):290.
Profiling American composer Charles Ives, Gerstein (The Wild Boy ) plies an artistic style as densely and consciously layered as one of Ives's compositions [in What Charlie Heard ]. The illustrations provide an instant visual connection to the music, which attempts to encompass the sounds of everyday life: Gerstein overlays his spry pen-and-wash artwork with multiple clusters of sound-effect words (e.g., a series of tweety tweets surrounds a caged bird, big red clangs surround toddler Charlie as he bangs on a metal pan). "Charles Ives was born with his ears wide open," Gerstein begins, detailing the kinds of sounds "Charlie" might have heard as a child: included are Charlie's music teacher father's trumpet, the swish of his mother's long dress and "dogs and crickets and the church bells next door," sounds that would later be woven into Ives's music. He tells of Charlie's high school efforts as a composer and how, later, Charlie composed music on the train as he commuted to his insurance job. Gerstein also describes the music's chilly reception: "Most people didn't know how to listen to it. Some thought it was a joke. Others just heard noise and got angry." The book concludes on a triumphant note: not only does Ives finally win acclaim, but he plans to write a Universe Symphony: "Wouldn't that be a glorious noise!" Gerstein creates a rousing visual cacophony that echoes Ives's compositions in this inspired picture-book biography. Ages 4-8.
Deborah Stevenson (review date April 2002)
SOURCE: Stevenson, Deborah. Review of What Charlie Heard, by Mordicai Gerstein. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 55, no. 8 (April 2002): 280.
Even today, the name of composer Charles Ives is hardly a household word, and his music has never really gained a wide popular audience. Gerstein's compact introduction to the man [in What Charlie Heard ] may not change that, but it will give kids an insight both into recent music history and the creative life of a genuine American innovator. The book offers particular emphasis on the influence of Ives' supportive father, himself a musician, and on Ives' all-American small-town boyhood, where music and sports vied for his time and where he absorbed the sounds of America such as marching bands and tent-meeting hymn singers; it then goes on to discuss his nurturing marriage to the aptly named Harmony, the public puzzlement at his music, and the eventual recognition it received. The simple and understated text capably covers the key points of Ives' life, but it's the illustrations that really evoke the musician's experience: the spreads are packed with onomatopoeic text floating through the air in various colors and textures, leaping out of Charlie's head, and emanating from various natural sources, which makes the art thick with the sounds of daily life Charlie heard (and sometimes with the scornful reactions he encountered) and incorporated into his music. The result is sometimes jarring and almost overwhelming when weighed against Gerstein's speedy yet delicate linework and mottled, sometimes iridescent hues, which is doubtless deliberate and absolutely fitting for Ives' challenging music; these are full, jostling, and lively views rather than well-tamed and pretty ones. This might provoke some interesting discussions about artistic evocations as well as introducing kids to Ives' music, and if youngsters want to respond with their own daily-sound cacophony, well, that's probably the best tribute of all.
Joanna Rudge Long (review date May-June 2002)
SOURCE: Long, Joanna Rudge. Review of What Charlie Heard, by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 3 (May-June 2002): 345-46.
Composer Charles Ives was "born with his ears wide open," not only to melodies played by his music-teacher dad but to every other sound in late-nineteenth-century Danbury, Connecticut: horse-drawn fire engines, Fourth of July fireworks, birds, rain, his baby brother drumming on pots and pans. Like son, like father: both were fascinated by two bands marching "in opposite directions playing different tunes." It's safe to conjecture that all true musicians are born most dedicated to what they hear, as opposed to what their other senses tell them; Ives made especially creative use of the auditory material celebrated here. Gerstein's observations [in What Charlie Heard ] are both lyrical ("Charlie heard the notes of his father's trumpet drift like dragonflies across the pond at twilight") and sage (hymn singers "didn't have beautiful voices, but they made beautiful music"). His deftly sketched pen-and-ink scenes, freely enhanced with gentle, realistic hues, are over-laid with the sounds that were Ives's lifelong inspiration—onomatopoetic words ("SCREEEEEECHY," "QUACK QUACK," "KA-BLAM!"), like cheerful graffiti, rhythmically repeated in a cacophony of vivid color. Only news of Charlie's father's death wipes the page blank, as the young man hears "a great silence" and a glowing yellow background fades to somber gray across a poignant spread. The book, whose information the author credits primarily to Jan Swafford's adult biography, covers the composer's entire life (Ives received no real recognition until three years before his death at age eighty); a concluding note summarizes his life and accomplishments. Like Gerstein's Wild Boy (rev. 11/98), this is a thought-provoking picture-book biography, an unusually creative synthesis of format, composition, and text.
Junko Yokota and Mingshui Cai (review date January 2003)
SOURCE: Yokota, Junko, and Mingshui Cai. Review of What Charlie Heard, by Mordicai Gerstein. Language Arts 80, no. 3 (January 2003): 238.
The very first sound Charles Ive hears [in What Charlie Heard, ] is his father's trumpet announcing his birth to the world. As he grows up, he hears music in all kinds of sounds and noises around him. His father, a music teacher, nurtures his talent. Charlie begins to play musical instruments at a young age, and soon he is writing music, too. When Charlie is an adult, he composes music based on the sounds he hears every day. His music is so innovative and extraordinary that few people really appreciate it. His talent is not recognized until he is very old. At the age of 77, Charlie hears his entire Second Symphony broadcast by radio from Carnegie Hall in New York. The pages of this picture book are overflowing with sensuous images of sound that make visible the mysterious music Charlie hears.
THE COOL GHOUL MYSTERY (2003)
Laura Scott (review date March 2004)
SOURCE: Scott, Laura. Review of The Cool Ghoul Mystery, by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 50, no. 3 (March 2004): 176.
Gr. 2-4—Fletcher, a basset hound who hosts a flea named Jasper in a friendly, symbiotic relationship, narrates this lighthearted story [The Cool Ghoul Mystery ]. Although he does not communicate verbally with humans, the dog uses his amazing powers of persuasion to convince Jill's mom to include him on a snowboarding vacation, so that he and Jasper might avoid a flea bath at the kennel. After they arrive at the resort, unidentified scratching and thumping sounds, along with raccoon prints in the snow that spell the words "Cool Ghoul," lead the guests and the media to believe the place is haunted. However, it's not long before Fletcher, Jasper, and their new friend Rocky Raccoon unearth the truth. Jasper's sarcastic comments and impatience reflect his character, in counterpoint to Fletcher's patience, loyalty, and ingenuity. References to snow-boarding reflect aspects of contemporary life, and readers will enjoy the loving relationships shared by the human and animal characters alike. As in the earlier books, Gerstein's cartoons extend the story with their humor and charm. Beginning chapter-book readers will feel right at home with Fletcher and his friends.
THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS (2003)
Publishers Weekly (review date 1 September 2003)
SOURCE: Review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 33 (1 September 2003): 89.
This effectively spare, lyrical account [The Man Who Walked between the Towers ] chronicles Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between Manhattan's World Trade Center towers in 1974. Gerstein (What Charlie Heard ) begins the book like a fairy tale, "Once there were two towers side by side. They were each a quarter of a mile high … The tallest buildings in New York City." The author casts the French aerialist and street performer as the hero: "A young man saw them rise into the sky…. He loved to walk and dance on a rope he tied between two trees." As the man makes his way across the rope from one tree to the other, the towers loom in the background. When Philippe gazes at the twin buildings, he looks "not at the towers but at the space between them…. What a wonderful place to stretch a rope; a wire on which to walk." Disguised as construction workers, he and a friend haul a 440-pound reel of cable and other materials onto the roof of the south tower. How Philippe and his pals hang the cable over the 140-feet distance is in itself a fascinating—and harrowing—story, charted in a series of vertical and horizontal ink and oil panels. An inventive foldout tracking Philippe's progress across the wire offers dizzying views of the city below; a turn of the page transforms readers' vantage point into a vertical view of the feat from street level. When police race to the top of one tower's roof, threatening arrest, Philippe moves back and forth between the towers ("As long as he stayed on the wire he was free"). Gerstein's dramatic paintings include some perspectives bound to take any reader's breath away. Truly affecting is the book's final painting of the imagined imprint of the towers, now existing "in memory"—linked by Philippe and his high wire. Ages 5-8.
Lolly Robinson (review date November-December 2003)
SOURCE: Robinson, Lolly. Review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 6 (November-December 2003): 763-64.
"Once there were two towers side by side…. The tallest buildings in New York City." Another September 11 book? No—and yes. Gerstein's story [The Man Who Walked between the Towers ] takes place in 1974, when the World Trade Towers' construction wasn't quite finished. Philippe Petit, the French street performer and high-wire walker, couldn't resist the temptation to dance between the twin towers. "Once the idea came to him he knew he had to do it! If he saw three balls, he had to juggle. If he saw two towers, he had to walk! That's how he was." Gerstein is in top form, pulling the reader into his story with a conversational style extended by playful pen and paint illustrations. Like Petit, Gerstein conceals much careful planning behind an obvious enjoyment of his subject. As the book starts, rectangular paintings are set well inside the edge of each white page. When Philippe and his co-conspirators, disguised as construction workers, toil through the night-setting up the wire, the area between the illustrations' borders and the edge of the page fills with a gray-blue wash, providing the visual equivalent of foreboding background music. As dawn breaks and Philippe gets ready to step onto the wire, the blue fades away. Now we're ready to be exhilarated and terrified—and on two successive foldout pages, we are. The first heart-stopping image shows Philippe from above as he moves to the middle of the wire. The tiny buildings below him seem terrifyingly distant while on the far right his destination, the top of the tower, is shown with exaggerated perspective, taking our eye down, down, and off the bottom of the page. Next we see the same scene from the ground with the book turned on its side. People on the street look up in surprise and fear while a cop calls for assistance. The denouement takes us back to solid ground and back to the rectangle-on-white illustrations. Philippe is arrested, as we knew he would be, but the kindly judge sentences him to perform in Central Park. Finally, the last pages bring us to the present ("Now the towers are gone"), showing the current empty skyscape. "But in memory, as if imprinted on the sky, the towers are still there." And so they are on the last page, translucent against the clouds, with a tiny Philippe on his wire connecting the towers to each other and the past to the present.
Elizabeth Bush (review date December 2003)
SOURCE: Bush, Elizabeth. Review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 4 (December 2003): 152.
Before the World Trade Center towers were quite complete, French acrobat and wire walker Philippe Petit had marked them for his next stunt. He had already traversed the span between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral; this was surely the next logical step. With permission out of the question, he and his friends snuck into the buildings in disguise and rigged the wire in the night, and Petit greeted the morning from a five-eights-inch cable high above New York. Defying police attempts to talk him down, Petit walked into custody in his own sweet time, was taken to court, and was sentenced "to perform in the park for the children of the city." Although Gerstein takes no official position on the rectitude or sanity of Petit's stunt [in The Man Who Walked between the Towers ], his line-and-watercolor pictures follow the adventure with gleeful approbation. The midnight setup is an exciting, mysterious antic in deepest blues and teals, the early morning stroll a stomach-churning marvel viewed in foldouts that capture Petit's perspective from on high and the crowd's perspective from the ground. Even the black-robed judge beams bemusement as he delivers the sentence from his lofty bench onto the now-grounded aerialist. There are bound to be adults who will shudder at the thought of celebrating with a picture-book audience an illegal, dangerous accomplishment, but Gerstein recognizes and taps into that pervasive love/hate regard for outlaws and daredevils and bad boys that has been observed to run through American culture. Any collection that includes Jesse James, Harry Houdini, and the Montgolfier brothers had better make room for Philippe Petit as well.
Horn Book Magazine (review date January-February 2004)
SOURCE: Review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 80, no. 1 (January-February 2004): 13.
With heart-stopping images and a suspenseful text, Gerstein tells of aerialist Philippe Petit, who in 1974 contrived to stretch a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and then walked—and even danced—across them, a quarter of a mile above the earth [in The Man Who Walked between the Towers ]. Both haunting September 11 tribute and exhilarating story, this is spectacular nonfiction.
Jennifer L. Doyle (review date summer 2004)
SOURCE: Doyle, Jennifer L. Review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein. Childhood Education 80, no. 4 (summer 2004): 212.
This wonderfully illustrated account of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between Manhattan's World Trade Center Twin Towers in 1974 [The Man Who Walked between the Towers ] reminds readers of the excitement and beauty of the Twin Towers. The detailed characterization of Philippe Petit captures the essence of his determination to overcome obstacles and follow his dreams. Mordicai Gerstein has provided not only a history lesson for children, but also a fitting memorial to the Twin Towers. Ages 9-12.
THE MYSTERY OF TOO MANY ELVISES (2003)
Gillian Engberg (review date 1 May 2003)
SOURCE: Engberg, Gillian. Review of The Mystery of Too Many Elvises, by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 99, no. 17 (1 May 2003): 1529.
Gr. 2-4. In this fourth installment in the Fletcher Mysteries, [The Mystery of the Too Many Elvises, ] Fletcher the sleepy basset hound dons an Elvis outfit and nabs a devious canine thief. Jill and her friend Gwen want to enter Fletcher in their school's pet talent contest, but they can't think of a suitable trick for the show. They find the perfect one when Jill's mother puts on some Elvis tunes, and Fletcher dances to "Hound Dog." Dressed up in a Halloween Elvis suit from Jill's toddler days, Fletcher is ready, but on the day of the contest, his wig is stolen, and a no-good bulldog tries to steal the act. Fletcher the detective finds the thief and emerges as the show's winning performer. Breezy, fast-paced, and filled with puns and light-hearted suspense, the story will easily appeal to fans of the previous books as well as newcomers looking for an easy chapter book. Gerstein's sketches extend the comedy with full-page pictures of Fletcher balanced on his stubby hind legs, shaking his rump.
Kristina Aaronson (review date October 2003)
SOURCE: Aaronson, Kristina. Review of The Mystery of Too Many Elvises, by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 49, no. 10 (October 2003): 129.
Gr. 2-4—Another entry in a series starring Fletcher, a lovable basset hound; his best friend and favorite flea, Jasper; and Jill, his owner. Told from the dog's point of view, this beginning chapter book [The Mystery of the Too Many Elvises ] is about a pet talent show at Jill's school. Fletcher discovers that he has a little Elvis in him when his young owner's mother puts on "You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog" and he starts to "shake, rattle, and roll" to the music. When his Elvis wig disappears just before his act, he and Jasper must solve the mystery. The fast-paced text is divided into chapters with titles taken from Elvis hits. Other characters, such as Boots, the bubble-blowing cat; Otis, the rubber-band-flinging gerbil; and Quixote, the parrot who recites the Gettysburg Address, add humor. Sketchy black-and-white cartoons and spot art provide amusing views of the animals and their antics. Some of the references, such as to Little Shop of Horrors, may not be obvious to children. However, the idea of a pet talent show, the likable dog detective, and the easy-to-resolve mystery will appeal to young readers.
SPARROW JACK (2003)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton (review date 27 January 2003)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton. Review of Sparrow Jack, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 4 (27 January 2003): 258-59.
With the same gusto he brought to What Charlie Heard, Gerstein celebrates the accomplishments of another out-of-the-box thinker, John Bardsley [in Sparrow Jack ]. In 1868, the Englishman, newly transported to Philadelphia, imported 1,000 sparrows to the United States, averting the destruction of his new hometown's foliage by inchworms. This odd historical tidbit, in Gerstein's skilled hands, shapes up into a funny and engrossing tale. While a boy, Bardsley befriends a baby sparrow—one of a species viewed by the English as "greedy, noisy pests, but tasty snacks when roasted." The hero's fondness for the birds sparks his unusual idea about how to get Philadelphia's inchworm population into balance. Like composer Charlie Ives, Bardsley follows his vision despite naysayers. He transports the birds without the funding of the city council and shelters 1,000 sparrows in his home through the winter months. A living room scene, showing "Sparrow Jack" calmly reading a newspaper with birds perched on him from head to toe, embodies the whimsy of this story and the good nature of its hero. Humor and fancy augment every lightly hued, cross-hatched illustration. Gerstein decorates a number of scenes with a border of the ubiquitous inchworms, for example, and includes a dream sequence in which the birds debate the impending move ("Face facts. We're despised and hunted here"). Such playful touches make these humble little creatures soar. Ages 4-8.
Joanna Rudge Long (review date March-April 2003)
SOURCE: Long, Joanna Rudge. Review of Sparrow Jack, by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 2 (March-April 2003): 203-04.
"Gerstein tells the little-known story of how sparrows came to America," avers the jacket [of Sparrow Jack ], but that's not precisely the case. Rather, he recasts it as a sort of legend: as a boy in England, John Bardsley develops an affection for sparrows after bonding with a fallen nestling. Thirty years later, in 1868, he's become a house painter in Philadelphia; when the city is infested with a plague of inchworms, he returns to his native land to fetch a thousand sparrows in hopes that they will eradicate the pests. Gerstein makes a charming tale of "Sparrow Jack's" predilection for the little birds; his three dogged, seasick crossings of the Atlantic; the birds' decision to accompany him (in a dream Jack has while sleeping under a tree full of sparrows); the scorn of the Philadelphians when at first the sparrows ignore the inch-worms and just build nests; and Jack's vindication when the birds feed inchworms to their newly hatched young. Gerstein's illustrations, peopled with benign Dickensian types and swarming with appealing birds, exhibit his usual genius for lively and harmonious compositions that range across every spread in a pleasing variety of frames. The truth, however, is that many people imported English sparrows to the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, and that though the birds did eat some harmful insects, they early became recognized as an invasive species. It's too bad Gerstein didn't include a note about this, though he does admit that Philadelphians eventually found the sparrows to be "noisy little pests."
Deborah Stevenson (review date June 2003)
SOURCE: Stevenson, Deborah. Review of Sparrow Jack, by Mordicai Gerstein. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 56, no. 10 (June 2003): 401-02.
In this fact-based picture book, [Sparrow Jack, ] Gerstein tells the story of nineteenth-century Englishman John Bardsley, who grows up a lover of birds, especially the English sparrow. He misses the sparrows when he emigrates to Philadelphia, and when an inch-worm infestation devastates the city, he has an idea: bring over 1,000 omnivorous English sparrows to chow down on the pests. The idea is a startling one, but the sparrows settle happily into their new home, curb the inchworm population, and expand their numbers, making Bardsley a happy man. This is a deftly turned story about an interesting historical tidbit, but it's rather alarmingly blinkered about an important fact: Bardsley's action (and a similar importation before his, which the book never mentions) was actually very ecologically destructive, resulting in the spread of an invader species that's displaced and harmed native bird populations; no matter how well-meaning Bardsley may have been and how much short-term use there was in limiting the annoying insects, his bird importation was itself a damaging act. The illustrations are nonetheless zestful and effective: Gerstein gives his compositions a sparrowlike busyness that makes their period scenes lively and entertaining. His scrawling line adds both comedy and atmosphere, while the changing layouts help visually pace the story; both pertly perching birds and squirmy inchworms have an energetic and, appropriately, nearly overwhelming presence, decorating and breaking the framed borders as well as infiltrating the scenes themselves. Overall, this is an amiable title despite its rather significant flaw; interesting assignments might come of using it in conjunction with material that gives a different view of the sparrows' presence in the U.S.
THREE SAMURAI CATS: A STORY FROM JAPAN (2003)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean (review date 17 March 2003)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean. Review of Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 11 (17 March 2003): 76.
Plenty of action enlivens this team's (The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm ) version of a Zen parable about a castle held hostage by a gluttonous rat [Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan ]. The castle daimyo (powerful lord), a bulldog in a medieval Japanese costume, requests helpers from a shrine "famous for its corps of fighting samurai cats." The rat defeats the first two candidates handily. "Watch!" proclaims the second, in the manner of martial arts heroes, "I will demonstrate the technique of karigane, the wild goose, followed by shimo-tatewari, the bottom vertical split"; the swish of his sword is almost audible, but his artistry is wasted when the rat boots him across the room. Gerstein uses Japanese anime-style panels, but not their flat figures; his animals have heft, bulk and plenty of untidy fur. He has great fun with the paunchy rat, who alternately terrorizes the good guys and eats himself silly. At last the shrine sends Neko Roshi, the Zen master cat, a mangy but patient animal who waits for the rat's inevitable misstep and exploits it; the rat, threatened at last, leaves quietly. "Neko Roshi allowed his opponent to defeat himself," explains the head of the fighting cats, when the daimyo comes to express amazement: "Learn to act without acting." Children may not fully understand the cat's paradoxical tactics, or the mystical Zen message, but the sense is clear enough. Humor, wisdom and excitement make this offbeat tale a winner. Ages 5-8.
Gillian Engberg (review date 15 April 2003)
SOURCE: Engberg, Gillian. Review of Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Booklist 99, no. 16 (15 April 2003):1473.
PreS-Gr. 2. In feudal Japan, a daimyo (powerful lord) is humiliated when a greedy, bullying rat takes over his castle, eats his food, and intimidates everyone [in Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan ]. The daimyo seeks help from a shrine famous for training samurai cats. Two magnificent feline warriors arrive, but the rat effortlessly overpowers them. Desperate, the lord requests the toughest cat of all, and he is surprised when scrawny, aged Neko Roshi hobbles in. He is even more surprised when the cat refuses the rat's invitations to fight. As time passes, the rat's behavior grows more egregious, but Neko Roshi ignores the rodent—until it finally traps itself and leaves the castle defeated. Kimmel tempers the folk-tale's heavy message about passive resistance with humorous, perfectly paced language that is ideal for read-alouds, and the characters in Gerstein's colorful, detailed drawings are irresistible—the saggy-jowled hound in robes; the buffoonish, wildly costumed daimyo bulldog; the scruffy, shrunken Neko Roshi; and, best of all, the pot-bellied, gleefully wicked "barbarous rat," who is more comic foil than villain. An author's note offers some historical background and sources.
Miriam Lang Budin (review date June 2003)
SOURCE: Budin, Miriam Lang. Review of Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 49, no. 6 (June 2003): 129.
K-Gr. 3—Here's an adaptation of an adaptation of a story Zen masters used to illustrate how unconventional approaches to problems can be disarmingly effective. When a daimyo's castle is besieged by an enormous, ferocious rat [in Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, ] the lord beseeches the abbot of a nearby monastery to send a samurai cat to drive the beast away. The first and second samurai to confront him are overwhelmed by the rodent's martial-arts skills, but the third, a tattered, disreputable-looking old feline, allows the rat's greed to work against him and emerges triumphant. Kimmel's telling is reasonably successful and the message to "Draw strength from stillness. Learn to act without acting. And never underestimate a samurai cat …" is conveyed without any element of preachiness. Gerstein's lively cartoon illustrations are at their best in depicting the loathsome rat. The daimyo and the abbot are depicted as dogs, but there's no question as to who has the upper paw.
Jennifer M. Brabander (review date July-August 2003)
SOURCE: Brabander, Jennifer M. Review of Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 4 (July-August 2003): 470-71.
In this keen-witted and expertly paced folktale, [Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, ] a feudal lord in ancient Japan wants his castle rid of a large, wily rat. He seeks help from the head monk at a shrine famous for its samurai, who sends three warriors (portrayed as cats) one by one to the castle; the first two each fight the rat and lose, but the third, a "decrepit old cat," uses the rat's own weakness to defeat him nonviolently—the greedy rat becomes stuck to a giant ball of sticky rice. The feudal lord (a fierce-looking bulldog) and the monk (a morose-looking bloodhound) make a comical pair; each time the lord comes seeking a samurai, the two dogs sit in formal fashion alongside each other like Japanese kabuki actors on stage, complete with exaggeratedly dramatic body language and expressions. The cat, rat, and dog characters bring to mind George Booth's maniacal critters (Gerstein's smug, self-satisfied rat, in particular, with its beady eyes and long pink tail, bears a strong resemblance to Booth's sly varmint from Nancy Van Laan's Possum Come a-Knockin'). Kimmel's direct and humorous adaptation moves the story along quickly, as do the illustrations, several of which are presented in small panels that provide comic-strip-style action—the sword-wielding samurai cats in the martial-arts scenes a nod to manga, Japanese comic-books; and also to anime, Japanese animation. An author's note provides a brief source note, definitions of Japanese words used in the text, and some samurai history.
Lolly Gepson (review date September 2003)
SOURCE: Gepson, Lolly. Review of Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Book Links 13, no. 1 (September 2003):51.
Preschool-Gr. 2. A feudal warlord in Japan calls on two samurai cats when a bully of a rat takes over his castle [in Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan ]. The rat easily defeats the cats, but meets his match in a third feline, old and scrawny samurai Neko Roshi, who knows just how to deal with him. The colorful, detailed illustrations are delightful in this perfect read-aloud tale.
Irene A. Allen (review date summer 2004)
SOURCE: Allen, Irene A. Review of Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Childhood Education 80, no. 4 (summer 2004): 214.
In this clever retelling of a Japanese tale, [Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, ] the daimyo, a powerful feudal lord, is distressed when a savage rat moves into his castle. The daimyo seeks the aid of the senior monk, a docho, in ridding the castle of the dangerous rat. The docho sends two young samurai cats, but they are not up to the task. The docho finally sends an old decrepit cat that appears to do nothing but sleep and eat. The old cat refuses to fight, instead overpowering the rat with passive resistance. As the old cat says, "Draw strength from stillness. Learn to act without acting. And never underestimate a samurai cat." Excellent illustrations enhance the story. Ages 6-10.
Cassidy, Jane. Review of What Charlie Heard, by Mordicai Gerstein. American Music Teacher 52, no. 3 (December 2002): 82-3.
Comments that What Charlie Heard is a valuable text for those who "teach music lessons to children."
Gerstein, Mordicai. "Caldecott Medal Acceptance." Horn Book Magazine 80, no. 4 (July-August 2004): 405-09.
Transcript of Gerstein's 2004 Caldecott Medal award acceptance speech, delivered on June 27, 2004.
——, and Anita Silvey. "Sitting on Top of the World." School Library Journal 50, no. 5 (May 2004): 54-7.
Interview in which Gerstein discusses his career and the inspirations behind The Man Who Walked between the Towers.
Gordon, Elizabeth. "Mordicai Gerstein." Horn Book Magazine 80, no. 4 (July-August 2004): 411-14.
Offers personal recollections of editing Gerstein's picture books on the occasion of his 2004 Caldecott Medal award.
Hurst, Carol Otis. "Spring Book Surprises." Teaching Pre-K-8 29, no. 7 (April 1999): 80-1.
Argues that Gerstein has done an "admirable job" of fleshing out his feral protagonist in The Wild Boy.
Jordan, Anne. Review of Arnold of the Ducks, by Mordicai Gerstein. New York Times (10 April 1983): section 7,p. 39.
Offers a positive assessment of Arnold of the Ducks.
Review of The Story of May, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly 240, no. 15 (12 April 1993): 62.
Lauds Gerstein's "busy watercolors" and "worthy" message in The Story of May.
Rauch, Molly E. Review of The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. New York Times Book Review (3 December 2000): 85.
Praises Gerstein's "bright and jumbled illustrations" in The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm.
Review of Arnold of the Ducks, by Mordicai Gerstein. School Library Journal 29 (May 1983): 31.
Assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Arnold of the Ducks.
Additional coverage of Gerstein's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 117, 127; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 36, 56, 82, 121; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; and Something about the Author, Vols. 36, 47, 81, 142.