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Something from Nothing

by Phoebe Gilman

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From Publishers Weekly
When Joseph was a baby, his grandfather made him a shimmering blue blanket adorned with the moon and stars. As the boy grows and the blanket wears out, the old tailor recycles it, in succession fashioning a jacket, a vest, a tie and, finally, a cloth-covered button. But when Joseph loses the button, even his grandfather cannot make something from nothing. With its judicious repetition and internal rhymes, this thoughtfully presented Jewish folktale will captivate readers right through the ending, in which the boy discovers one last incarnation for his beloved keepsake. Although her renderings of human faces border on cartoonishness, Gilman's ( The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs ) oil-glazed tempera paintings suggest the vivid world of Joseph's shtetl, with full-page cutaway illustrations recording the multileveled activity in Joseph's house. In an imaginative visual stroke, the bottom of each spread features the beneath-the-floorboards doings of a family of mice whose domestic life--from new births to Sabbath dinners to the outfitting of their entire home in discarded swatches of the blue blanket--winsomely mirrors Joseph's own. Ages 5-11.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal
PreSchool-Grade 3-This tale drawn from Jewish folklore has been told in many variations, but never so richly. It is a story of relationships, trust, transformations, and optimism, as well as being an entree to Jewish history in Eastern Europe of the 19th-20th century. Grandpa trims away the worn parts of Joseph's baby blanket and uses it to make him a jacket in the first of its many transformations into ever smaller items: a vest, a tie, a handkerchief, and a button as each item in turn becomes worn. When the button is lost, Joseph declares: "'There is just enough material here to make...a wonderful story!'" The story is told with repetitive, rhythmic phrases that children will soon anticipate and join in on. Using colored pencils, watercolors, and possibly other media, Gilman has created a shtetl in a book. Each oversized wood-framed page draws readers closely into the town or into Joseph's house and also below its floor where the mice use each discarded scrap to furnish their own snug home. Shades of warm brown, rust, and gold, accented with bright blue, lend a feeling of nostalgia. Gilman's art is subtle with painterly shading, a skillful use of light and dark, and expressive line. Each page is beautifully composed. While some of the folk characters' expressions are exaggerated, this is, after all, supposed to be funny.
Marcia Posner, Federation of New York and the Jewish Book Council, New York City
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews
When Joseph is born, his grandfather fashions a beautiful blue blanket embroidered with stars. It's a favorite possession, but, of course, as the boy gets older it becomes worn. Grandpa snips and sews and makes a jacket from the fabric--which eventually Joseph outgrows. Later the material becomes a vest, a tie, and a button that's ultimately lost--a sequence the schoolboy Joseph spins into a story to read to his family, proving that it's possible to make ``something from nothing.'' This unsourced ``retelling of a traditional Jewish folktale'' is splendidly illustrated with hearty scenes of village life. In several of the glowing paintings, meticulously detailed cutaway views of the family's living quarters and Grandpa's tailor shop show the passage of years in other ways, realistic and fanciful: the birth of a baby; the outfitting of mouse family's home, under the floor, with scraps from Joseph's blanket. Nice. (Folklore/Picture book. 5-11) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Card catalog description
In this retelling of a traditional Jewish folktale, Joseph's baby blanket is transformed into ever smaller items as he grows until there is nothing left--but then Joseph has an idea.



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