Children's Book Reviews

Gershon's Monster
by Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Scholastic, September 2000.
Picture Book, 32 pages
Ages 4-8
ISBN: 043910839X.

Gershon's Monster by Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by Jon J. Muth

Many years ago in the city of Constantsa, on the shores of the Black Sea, lived a man named Gershon with his wife Fayga. Gershon was not always the best person he could be. His sins were not huge ones (he never murdered anyone, for example) but were more the little mistakes of everyday life: a small lie, a lost temper or a broken promise. Gershon never regretted his lapses, nor did he ever ask for forgiveness. Every Friday, Gershon swept up his mistakes and tossed them into the cellar. Then, on Rosh Hashanah, he put the mistakes in a sack, dragged the sack to the sea and threw it in. But of course, bad deeds are never gotten rid of so easily, and one day his mistakes come back to haunt him in the form of a giant monster which was about to devour his beloved children. Gershon throws himself in front of his children, begs for forgiveness and asks to die in the place of his children. The monster melted into raindrops and Gershon went home with his children, a changed man. He mended his ways, became a better person, and never saw the horrible monster again. The story closes with the message to children, "If you keep your soul clean, your best self will always shine through as surely as raindrops cleanse the sea."

Gershon's Monster is a retelling of one of the earliest Hasidic legends, and the lesson goes to the heart of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when all Jews must admit their sins, feel remorse, apologize and attempt to set right any hurts they have caused. Eric Kimmel strikes just the right note with the story: the lesson is serious, but the story of Gershon is also quite entertaining, with a mix of both scary and humorous details. Jon Muth's illustrations are beautifully rendered; his skill at depicting the facial expressions and emotions of the characters are especially compelling. His mix of detail, such as on Gershon's face, and the dreamy rendering of the supernatural element of the monster work quite well, and add depth and character to the illustrations. This book would make a wonderful gift for any child of any faith, and is a valuable adjunct for teaching the concepts of sin, remorse and redemption.

--Claire E. White

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