Book Review Wednesday: How to Make a Golem and Terrify People

This week I’ll be discussing the middle grade novel, How to Make a Golem and Terrify People, by Alette J. Willis. This is not a negative review but does offer quite a bit of constructive criticism so if you’d rather skip it, fine. (See this post by Maggie Stiefvater about bloggers who give negative reviews.) I hope you’ll join me next week.

The book doesn’t seem to be available at IndieBound or at B&N and probably because it is published in Scotland by Floris Books.

From the Floris Books webpage:

Floris Books is a publishing company based in Edinburgh, Scotland. We publish books in two main areas: non-fiction for adults, and books for children… We’re also the largest children’s book publisher in Scotland. We publish board and picture books for 0-7 year olds, often international stories in translation and nostalgic classics; story books and anthologies for 6-10 year olds; and the Kelpies series of Scottish children’s fiction, a much-loved classic series into which we’re publishing brand new contemporary novels. We also publish a wide range of craft and activity books suitable for children of all ages.

As a Jewish mom with an interest in Jewish legend and folktale, the title of the book intrigued me. If you’ve seen the Caldecott winning book, Golem, by David Wisniewski…

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…you may already be familiar with the tale. In the 1500’s a Rabbi in Prague creates a giant man out of mud to protect the Jews. In many of the stories, the Golem is uncontrollable. In the picture book, the Rabbi who gave him life sends him back to the clay he came from. Anyway, it’s an interesting story and I was curious to see what a Scottish author would do with it.

This book is about a girl named Edda, who is as tiny and fearful as a mouse, which is what her mother calls her. When her home gets broken into, she is more fearful than ever. Her mother starts looking for new homes but Edda doesn’t want to move. Her family has moved around quite a bit and she is finally in a school where she’s found a friend. Of course she’s also found a bully. Enter Michael Scot– a somewhat magical, perhaps time-traveling boy version of a historical and alchemist Michael Scot– who helps Edda create a Golem to solve her problems. Needless to say, the Golem only causes more problems and it is up to Edda to save herself.

This is a very sweet story. However, I had a lot of problems with it. Perhaps it is cultural, but the author tells quite a bit of the story or shows and then tells. There seemed to be a lot of cold imagery that didn’t match the story. Cold that slips down Edda’s spine, fear that “filled my stomach with quaking ice cubes…” The author also names emotions instead of showing. Throughout the book Edda feels: “queasey, sick to her stomach, sorry for him, safe and secure, angry and helpless at the same time, an unexpected flood of gratitude…” The magic of Michael Scot is never wrapped up. The character disappears when things get rough and the reader never finds out if indeed he is a time traveling Michael Scot or not. Further, Edda never gets to settle her feelings with the amorphous boy. I think that my biggest disappointment was in the fact that Jewish tradition didn’t seem to matter to any of the characters in the book.

I could go on but I won’t. My purpose in pointing out these writing issues is not to be unkind to the author but to further my own craft. When we read critically, we write critically and we give our children something that we are proud to read as well.


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