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Giora Carmi (1944-) - Sidelights

review latkes potato story

Children's book author and illustrator Giora Carmi is best known for his illustrations of retellings of classic Jewish folktales, including The Rooster Prince and A Journey to Paradise, and of original children's tales with a folktale-like flavor, such as The Little Menorah Who Forgot Chanukah.

The award-winning The Chanukkah Guest, by Eric A. Kimmel, features Old Bubba Brayna. The woman plans to make a big batch of latkes, or potato pancakes, for her friends and rabbi, who are coming to visit that evening. The smell of the latkes wafts out into the woods, waking up a hungry bear who comes pawing at the door. Bubba Brayna, with her poor eyesight, mistakes the bear for the rabbi and invites him in to eat. The story "provides nonstop mirth," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor, further commenting that the artist's "airy pastel illustrations shade the tale with a golden glow appropriate for the Festival of Lights."

Carmi is also the illustrator of another tale about latkes, The Miracle of the Potato Latkes: A Hanukkah Story, an original tale by Malka Penn about Tante Golda, a woman who every year makes "the most delicious latkes in all of Russia." But this year, a poor harvest has left her with only one measly potato, not the eight that she needs. Tante Golda, confident that God will provide, shares the lone potato with a poor stranger, and sure enough, God provides her with enough potatoes to prepare her annual latke feast. Carmi's simply drawn pictures, "with their subdued colors and broad, visible brush strokes, effectively evoke a hardscrabble Eastern European atmosphere," Stephanie Zvirin noted in a review of The Miracle of the Potato Latkes for Booklist.

"I went from being a designer and illustrator to being only an illustrator . . . as I felt that illustration activated more of me, and in a deeper way, than design," Giora Carmi once told SATA. "I always draw from imagination. If I need to draw an unfamiliar shape, like a specific piece of architecture, or a new animal, I find it in books or reality and study it until I feel I know it well enough. Then I draw it from memory. Being so familiar with the object enables me to add a meaning to it by distorting while I draw. I call it bringing out the inner truth. It is based on the object's role in the story. What is the inner truth of an animal for me? It is what it feels in its body when it moves. What makes it active, what it wants. And what is the inner truth of a building? Just the same: what does it want to do?

"In this way, everything I draw, even if it is in the background, has some life in it. It has motivation for its being, expressed in its shape. Not a single thing is left lifeless—even a wall or air—everything exists because it wants to do something, and it becomes an active participant in the story. This is also the way in which characters are created in my books. Their forms are derived from what they want. And the book gets the form of what the story wants, I hope. I see imaginary children looking at my work when I draw. They see through my eyes, and I see through theirs. Sometimes, I admit, I forget them."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Penn, Malka, The Miracle of the Potato Latkes: A Hanukkah Story, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1994.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 1, 1993, Annie Ayres, review of The Old Woman and Her Pig, p. 806; August, 1994, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Miracle of the Potato Latkes: A

Grandmother mistakes Old Bear for the rabbi in The Chanukkah Guest, written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Giora Carmi.

Hanukkah Story, p. 2052; April 15, 2000, Ellen Mandel, review of A Journey to Paradise: And Other Jewish Tales, p. 1549.

Entertainment Weekly, December 17, 1993, Jessica Shaw, review of The Little Menorah Who Forgot Chanukah, p. 79.

New York Times Book Review, November 20, 1994, review of The Miracle of the Potato Latkes, p. 30.

Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1988, review of And Shira Imagined, p. 456; November 9, 1990, review of The Chanukkah Guest, p. 57; November 1, 1991, review of The Greatest of All: A Japanese Folktale, p. 79; September 19, 1994, review of The Miracle of the Potato Latkes, p. 27; March 13, 2000, review of A Journey to Paradise, p. 82.

School Library Journal, November, 1987, Maria B. Salvadore, review of Happy Thanksgiving!, p. 108; March, 1989, Jacqueline Elsner, review of The Mouse in the Wainscot, p. 156; April, 1989, Susan Kaminow, review of And Shira Imagined, p. 76; November, 1989, Karen James, review of 'Night, Farm, p. 76; October, 1990, Susan Hepler, review of The Chanukkah Guest, p. 37; October, 1991, Diane S. Marton, review of The Greatest of All, p. 110; September, 1992, Marcia Posner, review of Deena the Damselfly, p. 210; October, 1992, Judy Constantinides, review of The Old Woman and Her Pig, pp. 104-105; June, 2000, Marcia W. Posner, review of A Journey to Paradise, p. 136; January, 2001, Susan Scheps, review of The Rooster Prince, p. 110.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), December 13, 1998, Kendal A. Rautzhan, review of The Chanukkah Guest, p. 7.*

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