Sunday, March 12, 2006

Review: Had Gadya illustrated by Seymour Chwast

Had Gadya illustrated by Seymour Chwast. Roaring Brook, 2005 (1-59643-033-8) $16.95

Starting with a goat being eaten by a cat and ending with God striking down the Angel of Death, the traditional cumulative song "Had Gadya" is a deliberately curious combination of whimsy and darkness. Both elements are seen in this picture book rendition. Acrylic paintings use chunky patches of color to create busy scenes full of people preparing for Passover; at the top of each spread, the characters of each verse are shown as they appear--first the goat, then the goat and the cat--to make it easy to keep track of the story. (Sometimes the characters glance at each other above, as if puzzled by their odd behavior below.) The Angel of Death is a menacing blue figure; God is portrayed as a bolt of light from clouds. In the end, as the family we've seen in the pictures begins their Passover Seder, we see the father bringing home... the goat.

An afterward by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld discusses possible meanings the song and its darker images, which may help parents interpret it for troubled children. The sheet music, and verses in the original Aramaic are also included. (3-8)


It was tricky to gauge an age range on this one! In the end I decided it would be best to include enough detail to help parents draw their own conclusions. Some quite young children would be completely unphased by the Angel of Death.