Written and illustrated by Dave Horowitz
Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2007
Genre: Children's picture book


A gefilte is a spiced fish dumpling, often served in broth. There are hundreds of different recipes, but in any form they are an important part of Jewish culture, particularly among the Ashkenazi Jews. If you would like to try some, you can probably pick up a jar at your local grocery store.

FIVE little gefiltes went out one day,
out of the jar and far away.
Mama Gefilte cried out OY VEY!
but only four little gefiltes came back that day.

Those of you who have spent time with children have probably come across the Five Little Ducks song (Five little ducks went out to play, / Over the hills and far away. / When the mama duck said, "Quack quack quack!" / Four little ducks came waddling back) and variations thereof. If you haven't heard this song, in each verse the ducks go out over the hills, and every time one less comes back. The ending is happy, as all the ducks come back in the last verse. Variations of this song have included dragons, balloons, and snowmen (although the drifting balloons and melting snowmen do not come back). It was only a matter of time before someone made a gefilte fish version.

FOUR little gefiltes went out one day.
They went to the theater and took in a play.
Mama Gefilte cried out OY VEY!
but only three little gefiltes came back that day.

While the rhyme is the core of the book, there's a lot more included. Speech bubbles and marginalia appear throughout, along with illustrations including all the signage that you would expect to find in New York. All of it is liberally spattered with Yiddish words and framed in Yiddish grammar. For those of us who may not have been raised in this culture, there is an introduction explaining what a gefilte fish is and a glossary of Yiddish words. How many children's books do you come across with glossaries? It's a wonderful thing.

THREE little gefiltes went out one day.
They went for a swim in the great New York Bay.
Mama Gefilte cried out OY VEY!
but only two little gefiltes came back that day.

This is, of course, a great book if you happen to be part of the Yiddish culture and want a fun book to read to your children. But it remains a fun book no matter what culture you're from. The pages are full of adventurous gefilte fish and brightly colored cityscapes. It can be read on different levels, depending on whether you simply read the rhyme or explore the scenery and offhand comments made by the gefiltes. Children can predict what's going to happen next ("only two came back!"), comment on the emotions felt by the gefiltes, learn new vocabulary (from 'gefilte' to 'chutzpah'), and shout out 'oy vey' along with Mother Gefilte.

TWO little gefiltes went out one day.
They went for a deli and crashed the buffet.
Mama Gefilte cried out OY VEY!
but only one little gefiltes came back that day.

I am comparatively ignorant when it comes to matters of art, but I quite enjoy the illustrations. The pictures are bright and well composed, somewhat reminiscent of Lane Smith's illustrations in books like The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. The pictures are bight and somewhat 'sloppy', and more crowded than the illustrations in books when I was a kid, but not so crowded as to be overwhelming. Dave Horowitz uses cut paper, charcoal, and colored pencils, resulting in designs that look something like comics with a touch of collage to them. Although he uses shading and pays a lot of attention to details, his drawings are still at a level such that a child could feel quite proud about their ability to draw a gefilte just like the ones in the book.

ONE little gefilte went out one day.
A big yellow taxi shlepped him away.
Mama Gefilte cried out OY VEY!
but not a single gefilte came back that day.

Five Little Gefiltes has won a The Sydney Taylor Book Award for Young Readers in 2008, and the Weird-Ass Picture Book award (for Best Story), also in 2008. The Sydney Taylor Book Award is given out by the Association of Jewish Libraries, and it is awarded to authors who have written "outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience". (For more on the W-APBAs, check out this site. If you find that site to be too hard to navigate/understand, an overview of the 2008 awards can be found here.)

Sad Mama Gefilte went out one day.
She went to the park and kvetched the whole way.
She finally got tired and sat down on a bench...
And the gefiltes came back because each was a mensch!

Dave Horowitz has also written a number of other fun children's books, all of which are well worth checking out. These include A Monkey Among Us, Twenty-six Princesses (an alphabet book), Soon, Baboon, Soon, and Beware of Tigers. These do not have the Yiddish theme of Five Little Gefiltes, but are equally quirky.



CST Approved

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