Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
Golem Book Poster Image
Giant legend too heady and scary for little ones.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Main message that the persecuted should fight their persecuters is fine; sadly, though, the rabbi must destroy the Golem when he has finished helping.

Violence & Scariness

Illustrations are scary and violent (dark, jagged) as Frankenstein-like giant destroys the attacking mob with his bare hands; though the message is triumphant.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that though this book won the Caldecott Medal in 1997, usually reserved for lighter picture books, it contains images that may frighten young children. Also, the story, which is an adaptation of a medieval legend, may unsettle them. It discusses the persecution of the Jews in Prague and shows the violent way the Golem dispatches enemies. More sophisticated readers will find the book more captivating and inspiring, though still somewhat distressing, especially when the Golem is destroyed.

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What's the story?

To combat the persecution of the Jews in Prague, the chief rabbi creates a powerful giant of clay (the Golem). The Golem looks on him as a father, and does all he can to help the Jews fight their enemies. End notes develop the legend further and tell the history of the persecution and repression of Jews.

Is it any good?

The multi-layered cut-paper illustrations of GOLEM are magnificent, and are a good enough reason to own this book. They're definitely the reason it won the Caldecott medal in 1997. The pages with the intricately cut clouds and mist are particularly impressive. Throughout, David Wisniewski has manipulated Color-Aid, coral, and bark paper to create this haunting adaptation of this somewhat scary and sad Jewish legend.

The story here has been simplified, which makes it more accessible to young readers. However, they may not be the appropriate audience. Readers should be old enough to learn about the persecution of the Jews, accept that a man (even the holiest of rabbis) could create a giant from clay, understand why the giant was heroic for his violent overthrow of the oppressors, and most importantly, get why the rabbi has to return the Golem to earth even as the monster pleads, like a child to his father, that he wants to live. Readers who are ready for this story might be better served by Isaac Bashevis Singer's longer, more complete, and richer version, also called The Golem.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Before they even open this book, families should talk about its cover. What do you think is happening? Where is the story taking place? Then, after opening its pages, readers will want to spend time talking about the amazing, yet haunting illustrations, and what they mean. Beyond that, families will want to spend time discussing the story itself. Where is Prague? What do you think life was like there in medieval times? Was it different for the Jews? Why? What kind of man was the rabbi? Why did the rabbi feel he needed to make a Golem? Do you think the rabbi was right to create the Golem, use him, and then take his life away?

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