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Gr 3-6-These Czech folktales are the work of a gifted writer who perished at Auschwitz. The title character, a good and wise man, is granted the power by the Almighty to become invisible at will. He uses his talent to help neighbors who are faced with crises and problems. Mendel is especially interested in the poor and children. Despite the supernatural element, Weber's tales paint a knowing portrait of small-town pre-Holocaust Jewish life in Central Europe. Her characters are multidimensional, interesting, and unpredictable. Their strengths and weaknesses mirror human nature. Her plots are original and filled with humor. The collection is imbued with the traditional Jewish beliefs that people can change for the better, and that doing the right thing for the wrong reason can lead to a more positive motivation. Moral lessons are subtle. An afterword by translator Hans Fisher describes how these tales were rediscovered and made available to English-speaking children. The author's fate and the fate of the communities about which she wrote lend poignancy to this excellent collection. The cover illustration of an old-fashioned-looking Mendel could deter readers.
Libby K. White, Jewish Vocational Services, Baltimore, MD
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Ilse Weber was born in 1903 in Witkowitz, Austria-Hungary, to an innkeeper's family. She attended German schools, and was fluent in Czech and Polish as well. She married Willi Weber in 1929, at the point in time when she was pursuing her overriding goal: to bring together the three cultures she held in high esteem: Jewish, Czech, and German. She was a prolific playwright, radio producer, children's author, and poet and published three books between 1927 and 1929. At age thirty-nine, and under Nazi persecution, she and her family were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, where she spent the most difficult, and creative, two years of her life, composing poetry and performing her songs for children and the elderly. She perished at age forty-one at Auschwitz in 1945 along with her son Tommy and other inmates from the Theresienstadt Children's Home.