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Praise for Shlemiel Crooks

About the Book
You should be so lucky as to find a Passover story that combines a surprisingly droll exposition of the flight from Egypt (right down to the pilfered raisins), with an account of the foolish crooks in St. Louis, who, in 1919, really did try to steal some of the special spirits Reb Elias Olschwanger had ordered for sale before the holiday. Well told and illustrated.
Shtetl humor and magic realism come to St. Louis in 1919 in this wry Pesach story based on the experience of the author’s great-grandfather, who sold kosher wines. While Reb Elias is at synagogue leading a Talmud discussion (OK, an argument) about the first Passover (when the Israelites were booted out of Egypt), Pharaoh’s ghost arrives in St. Louis, still sneaking around and trying to put one over on the Jews. He persuades a couple of crooks (‘onions should grow in their navels’) to steal Reb Elias’ special Passover wine, but with help from the prophet Elijah and a talking horse, the bumbling thieves are chased away by noisy neighbors. The boldly colored woodcuts give life to the city neighborhood, the foolish villains, and the lively arguments as well as to the daring Israelites, escaping across the desert three-thousand years ago. The best thing here, however, is Olswanger’s Yiddish storyteller’s voice, particularly the hilarious curses she weaves into the story: ‘His teeth should fall out, except one, then he could have a toothache.’ Great for reading aloud.
The fun, colorful illustrations complement Olswanger’s humor. Children and adults alike will laugh out loud. For the best effect, read with an Eastern European accent.
... the vivid images will appeal to a child’s sense of humor and imagination.
Written with stylized humor and charm, Yiddish flavor positively drips from each sentence. Simply splendid.
An entertaining and well executed tale that is chock full of subtle humor.
This colorfully illustrated children’s book tells the tale of some dirty rotten no-goodniks in 1919 St. Louis. How rotten, you ask? ‘Onions should grow in their navels,’ chides the book’s opening paragraph, which kicks off ‘an amusing modern-day parable ... [with] a music all its own.’ Music here includes the gentle and evocative Yiddishisms that pepper the text and convey that special down-home flavor.
This delightful story is based on a true incident reported in the St. Louis Jewish Record in 1919, in which Reb Elias Oschwanger’s liquor store was almost robbed of its Passover wine (brought in from the Land of Israel no less) by a couple of inept thieves. But that’s not the whole story because Reb Elias also recounts his own version of the exodus from Egypt, with the Hebrews absconding with linen and jewels and raisins—raisins? Anyway, you remember the part where Pharaoh chases after the Israelites and ends up in the Red Sea? Turns out his ghost is still wandering around St. Louis of all places, whispering in the ears of the crooks who go rob the store, only they get scared off by some noisy neighbors and a talking horse. This tale is a pleasure and a hoot; it rings so true with the voice of a Yiddish grandmother that it’s practically historic fiction (minus the ghost). The boldly colored, expressive illustrations enhance the humor so you shouldn’t get bored.
If the fools of the fabled village of Chelm knew any better, they might be a little jealous of the attention Olswanger pays to a pair of bumbling thieves . . . In 1919 St. Louis, the two shlemiel crooks of the title plan a heist of Reb Elias’s new shipments of Passover wine, egged on by the ghost of the Pharaoh that had enslaved the Israelites in Egypt. Fortunately for Reb Elias, the ‘lowlife’ klutzes make enough noise to rouse the sleeping neighbors and are forced to flee the scene of the crime, leaving the goods—and their horse and cart—behind. Inspired by archival newspaper accounts of a similar event experienced by one of her forebears, the author stirs bits of family history, Jewish heritage and humor into her literary stew, with an unusual recap of the Passover story added in. The predominant Yiddish inflection and phrases are sure to give adults a chuckle ... Newcomer Koz delivers arresting woodblock print artwork featuring thick black lines and a deep, jewel-tone palette. Her attention to old-world detail and a few funny scenes of the crooks in action or on the run give this project plenty of visual charm.
This lovely book is a winner on two levels. It introduces the reader to a fascinating period in American Jewish history, while providing an extremely humorous and entertaining story ... The Yiddishisms of the characters add authenticity to the imaginative events.
Olswanger weaves Judean storytelling customs with the humorous true tale of thieves who attempt but fail to steal Passover wine from her great-grandfather, who owned a saloon in St. Louis, Missouri. [She] cites Jewish texts, the Jews Biblical journey from Egypt, and the explanations of the Passover ceremony, all with authentic Yiddish wit and a fast pace kids will enjoy.
While researching her family history, the author discovered an ad and a news report about her great-grandfather in the St. Louis Jewish Record, which inspired this quirky funny story. It involves the attempted robbery of Elias Olschwanger’s saloon, which has just been stocked with kosher-for-Passover wines. Instigating the shlemiel crooks is the ghost of Pharaoh, who still has it in for the Jews. Yinglish imbues the story with a distinctive cadence ... So flavorful a style, syntactically different from most of what children hear and read, requires close attention, so the audience is likely to be elementary rather than primary grade children, not to mention older people whose distance from Yiddish and from an immigrant setting is not as great as children’s. The strong, almost rough, linocut illustrations establish an earthy urban milieu, adding humor and more tam to a savory story.
As fun to read as it is to hear. Here’s a chance for your family’s best storyteller to brush up on his or her humorous stage presence and Yiddish accent ... Inspiring!
Shlemiel Crooks is not written like any other children’s book you’ve ever read. It’s more like you’re in the middle of a conversation, and you’re being talked to by your grandmother, or your grandfather, or someone who doesn’t know from Britney Spears: ‘Hoo-ha! Mrs. Moskowitz, who lived with her little boy next door to Mankel, started screaming like the bedbugs were eating her alive. Let me tell you, a voice like a canary she didn’t have.’ ... So fun, and so wonderfully illustrated, it’s absolutely irresistible.
Writer Anna Olswanger used a 1919 newspaper clipping from a St. Louis Jewish newspaper that she discovered when researching her family history as the seed for her recent book, Shlemiel Crooks. Her great grandfather Reb Elias Olschwanger was a saloon owner in St. Louis and this book is the story of the thieves who tried to steal his shipment of Passover wine. Written in Yiddish inflected English, punctuated with amusing (but non-toxic) curses, this is a book that children and their parents will enjoy, for its delightful story and for its glimpse of a colorful Jewish community of another time. Paula Goodman Koz supplies richly-hued illustrations.
At last, a wine book for children. (I'll have to call my agent and tell him to resubmit my masterpiece, Daddy's Awful Fond of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.) Well, not really, but this charming book teaches the story of Passover through the theft of kosher wine from a saloon in St. Louis in 1919. The colored wood-block illustrations lend a look that blends the old and modern, but the star of the show is the voice of the narrator. If the name Hyman Kaplan means anything to you, or you have a well-thumbed Joys of Yiddish handy, you should drop what you're doing and go buy this book.
The distinctive music of the story telling and the atmospheric illustrations create an early twentieth century urban folk tale with character, humor, warmth, and grit.
Shlemiel Crooks manages to be both poignant—and laugh-out-loud funny. A gem.
Delightfully told in a colloquial, folksy style, sprinkled with gentle humor by Anna Olswanger, and beautifully illustrated with strong woodcuts by Paula G. Koz.
Anna Olswanger’s Shlemiel Crooks, told with Yiddish inflection, is a fine addition to the growing number of stories about the Jewish immigrant experience in America. Mazeltov!
Buy this book—you should only have good luck coming out of your ears—and you'll laugh out loud. A delight!
I have been reading Anna Olswanger’s stories for ten years or more, and I love them—never a boring moment where she is concerned. She is a gifted story teller and a fine writer, and Shlemiel Crooks is one of her most delightful tales. Ms. Koz's delightful illustrations are a perfect complement.
Two dopey burglars, a talking horse, a wagon loaded in Passover wine, and Pharaoh and Elijah duking it out in St. Louis make for a great Passover story. All we need is W.C. Handy to set it to music: “St. Louis Ganovim!”
This is a good—no I lie—it is a great story: funny, original and perfect for a new twist on the Passover holiday. Based on her own family’s history, author Anna Olswanger has created a tale set in St. Louis in 1918. Read it. You should live to be a hundred and tell others to read it too.
A lively tale, a delight for young and old, Anna Olswanger’s Shlemiel Crooks has the enchanting qualities of legend.
An amusing vignette of Jewish life during the early 20th. century. Ms. Olswanger incorporates the sayings and flavor of a midwest Jewish community.
It's 1919, and Pharoah, still angry at losing his Israelite slaves, has reappeared, after 3000 years in St. Louis - yes, St. Louis! - and is bent on stealing the community's Passover wine-wine descended from the original grape seeds the Israelites took with them from Egypt. But thanks to a few talking horses (encouraged by Elijah the prophet) and some wonderfully noisy neighbors, the wine and Passover are saved! Anna Olswanger's deliciously funny story and Paul Koz's colorful art, carry a strong flavor of Yiddishkeit as well as a timeless message of the joy and strength of community.
... his great-granddaughter Anna Olswanger describes in the Yiddish inflected English she remembers hearing her St. Louis relatives use how the old pious Jew [Reb Elias Olschwanger] thwarted the shlemiels - harking back to how fleeing Jews outwitted an avenging Pharaoh. It is these inflections, particular word order and phrasing combined with a delicious sense of humor, that make Shlemiel Crooks a large treasure in a very small package.
... sit down and read it already.
The Yiddish-inflected rhythms used to tell the tale may be unfamiliar to many, but they are undeniably funny and deftly evocative of the immigrant Jewish experience in America decades ago. Read it, so worms should not hold a wedding in your belly.
This is some wonderfully oddball Passover story.
This off-beat and funny story — set in St. Louis in the early 1900s — is based on the author's grandfather. It involves the attempted robbery of Reb Olschwanger's saloon by two shlemiel crooks who are instigated by the ghost of Pharaoh and foiled by a talking horse and a neighborhood ‘shtuss.’ Flavored heavily with a Yiddish inflected narration and illustrated with earthy, heavily outlined linocuts, this gem of a story requires considerable practice before reading aloud ... but it’s worth the effort.