Children's Book Reviews

The Internet Writing Journal, September 2000
Page One of Two

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

Scholastic, September 2000.
Picture Book, 32 pages
Ages 4-8
ISBN: 043910839X.
Ordering information: |

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

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, Illustrated by Mary Grandpre

Arthur Levine Books, July 2000.
Hardcover, 734 pages
Ages 9 to Adult
ISBN: 0439139597.
Ordering information: |

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by J.K. Rowling, Illustrated by Mary Grandpre Boy wizard Harry Potter heads off to his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, never anticipating what a pivotal year this will be for him. Although the quidditch matches have been cancelled (Harry is a star player), there is more than enough excitement after the replacement has been announced. The infamous Triwizard Tournament will be held at Hogwarts. The best Hogwarts students will compete with students from two other wizardry schools: Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. Someone enters Harry into the tournament, although he is technically under age. The tournament involves three tests of skill, each one more dangerous than the last. Nervous about the upcoming tournament, Harry also has to deal with his first crush and the reappearance of the evil Lord Voldemort, who wants Harry dead -- at any cost.

The much-anticipated fourth installment of the phenomenally popular Harry Potter books is every bit as good as the first three entries in the series. Rowling, who has stated that she feels immense pressure after all the publicity surrounding the books, has gone all out for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For one thing, the book weighs in at a hefty 734 pages. Rowling has warned that this book would be a bit darker than the others, and it is. The plotting ties up many loose ends, and creates more than enough new threads to carry the story into the next installment. Harry and the diverse cast of characters are immensely entertaining, the writing is crisp and funny, and the world as imagined by J.K. Rowling is still as fascinating as ever. Highly recommended.

--Claire E. White

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