CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 29 . . . . April 1, 2011
Joan Betty Stuchner's new picture book, Can Hens Give Milk? follows in the tradition of stories about the mythical village of Chelm from Jewish folklore. This is a village populated by fools, and the problems citizens find themselves in are finally solved by a designated wise person.
In Stuchner's story, Shlomo, the farmer, has chickens which produce eggs daily. His wife, Rivka, wishes they also had a cow to produce milk and cheese, but they cannot afford a cow. Shlomo has a dream which tells him that, by feeding the chickens grass, cow food, they will produce milk like a cow. When the chickens, of course, will not eat grass, Shlomo's clever daughter, Tova, offers advice to trick the chickens into eating grass. The situation is silly, and every effort to make chickens eat grass and produce milk is futile. The rabbi, the village's wisest resident, brings about a solution to the problem. But Shlomo has learned nothing, and the story ends with Shlomo continuing to be perplexed with problems which cannot be solved.
What is charming about this tale is that the reader knows from the very beginning that chickens do not give milk and cows do not lay eggs. For Shlomo to try to make this happen is impossible. The fun is watching him try. Joe Weissmann's illustrations are hilarious and add to the understanding of the story. This book is easy to follow even as the problem escalates to the ridiculous. Shlomo is a loveable fool, and Tova, his daughter, is a girl who is a deep thinker who cannot figure out the obvious. The ending will make everyone smile.
Robert Groberman is a grade three teacher at Kirkbride Elementary School in Surrey, BC.
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