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About the Author

David Wisniewski (wiz-NESS-key) was born in Middlesex, England, in 1953. After training at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, he spent three years as a clown, designing and constructing his own props, costumes, and gags. He was subsequently hired by his future wife, Donna, as a performer with a traveling puppet theatre. Married six months later, the Wisniewskis started their own troupe, Clarion Shadow Theatre, specializing in shadow puppetry. In the course of creating the plays, puppets, and projected scenery, Mr. Wisniewski evolved the storytelling techniques and art skills that eventually led to his picture books with their unique cut-paper illustrations. His retelling of GOLEM was awarded the 1997 Caldecott Medal. David Wisniewski died in 2002 in the Maryland home he shared with his wife and two children.


Gr 3 Up‘Wisniewski's retelling of the golem legend varies only slightly from the traditional version recounted by Beverly McDermott in The Golem (HarperCollins, 1975; o.p.). It is the tale of a clay giant formed in the image of man to protect the Jewish people of medieval Prague from destruction by their enemies. His master, the chief rabbi of Prague in the late 16th century, was a highly regarded Cabbalist (a mystic). In this telling, the golem speaks with the simplicity of a child (In many versions he is mute), and he is destroyed when the emperor guarantees the safety of the Jewish people. (Traditionally, the golem goes berserk and must be returned to the earth.) A lengthy note explains the idea of the Golem and details Jewish persecution throughout history. Wisniewski has used layers of cut paper to give depth to his illustrations, many of which have a three-dimensional appearance. A wispy layer, which begins as the vapor of creation, becomes smoke from torches carried by an angry mob of armed silhouette people and horses. The colors are browns and grays of the earth, sunrise mauve, and the pumpkin and burnt orange of fire and sunset. Skillful use of perspective enhances the Golem's immense size. While the plot is stronger than in Mark Podwal's retelling (Greenwillow, 1995), Wisniewski's text lacks the power and child appeal of McDermott's spare, well-crafted tale. Still, collections wanting another edition of the story might consider this one.‘Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH

Elaborately composed cut-paper spreads give a 3D, puppet-show-like quality to a retelling of a Jewish legend. Rabbi Loew has a prophetic vision in 1580 when the Jews of Prague are accused of mixing the blood of Christian children into matzoh: he must create a Golem, "a giant of living clay, animated by Cabala, mystical teachings of unknown power." Brought to life with apocalyptic explosions of steam and rain, the Golem seeks out the perpetrators of the Blood Lie and turns them over to the authorities. Thwarted, the enraged enemies of the Jews storm the gates of the ghetto, but the Golem grows to enormous height and violently defeats them with their own battering ram. Once his work is done, he pitifully (and futilely) begs the Rabbi: "Please let me live! I did all that you asked of me! Life is so... precious... to me!" Wisniewski (The Wave of the Sea Wolf) emphasizes the Golem's humanity and the problems with his existence; instead of reducing the legend to a tale of a magical rescuer, the author allows for its historical and emotional complexity. The fiery, crisply layered paper illustrations, portraying with equal drama and precision the ornamental architecture of Prague and the unearthly career of the Golem, match the specificity and splendor of the storytelling. An endnote about the history and influence of the legend is particularly comprehensive. Ages 6-10. (Oct.)

"The cut-paper collages are exquisitely produced and exceedingly dramatic. There is menace and majesty in Wisniewski's use of color, and he finds atmosphere and terror in a scissor's stroke. A fact-filled final note concludes this mesmerizing book." Kirkus Reviews with Pointers

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