There was once a town filled with people so wise that a body of Jewish folklore developed around their wisdom. Except, of course, they weren’t wise at all. Indeed, they were absolutely, thigh-slappingly, heart-stoppingly foolish—which is where much of the fun lies in the Chelm stories.*
In Shlomo Abas’s droll version of the traditional tale, the wise but unfortunately naive Chelm-dwellers struggle with a recurring nighttime visibility problem:
The darkest nights were those when the moon disappeared altogether and barely a sliver of light could be seen in the sky. On such nights, the poor people of Chelm bumped into each other, walked into tree trunks, and stumbled over rocks in the road. Sometimes they completely lost their way. Some couldn’t find their own homes and wandered into their neighbour’s houses by mistake.
The solution? Blindingly obvious! Buy a better moon… Ideally one that doesn’t periodically disappear. And so, they set out to do exactly that. Alas, the purchase doesn’t turn out to be quite as successful as they might have hoped. But the town people’s puzzled, unenlightened efforts make for a wonderful story—with readers in on the joke throughout.
*NB: While Chelm is a real town in eastern Poland, near the Ukrainian border, its sages from mythical days of yore are not.
**Review copy of The Sages of Chelm and the Moon kindly provided by Green Bean Books.
Written by Shlomo Abas
Illustrated by Omer Hoffmann
Translated from the Yiddish by Gilah Kahn-Hoffmann
Read an interview with the artist
2019 Green Bean Books
Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 50 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, and German into English, including the much-loved Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels (Papercutz). Two of her latest translations, Luisa: Now and Then (Humanoids) and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas (First Second) were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book and a 2020 GLLI Translated YA Book Prize Honor Book. Her most recent translations include Bibi & Miyu, Brina Cat #2: City Cat, Undead Messiah #3, and The Sisters, Vol. 6: Hurricane Maureen.