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Picture Book Review for Jewish Heritage Month – Seven Good Years

SEVEN GOOD YEARS:
A YIDDISH FOLKTALE

Written by Shoham Smith

Illustrated by Eitan Eloa

Translated by Ilana Kurshan

(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

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Seven Good Years cover Tuvia gold goat and family
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Based on a story from the early 1900s by I. L. Peretz, this thought-provoking Jewish folktale presents the story of Tuvia, a poor hard-working man, living in a ramshackle hut with his children and wife Sorka
when a magical older man offers him a fortune for seven years. How can he pass that
up?
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This terrific retelling of Seven Good Years A Yiddish Folktale, written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa and seamlessly translated by Ilana Kurshan, asks the question – If you were offered a life of wealth for seven years, no less and no more, would you start those years now, wait, or do something unexpected? This is the dilemma our main character must decide.
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Seven Good Years int1 Tuvia was poor
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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Using mostly primary colors, Eloa’s loosely drawn images depict Tuvia dressed with a rope around his waist because he can’t afford a belt, carrying heavy loads in his job as a porter. He does what he can to put food on his family’s plates and educate his children. But when the marketplace empties out, and the merchants pack up their wares and close shop, Tuvia asks himself “What will I do now?” The simple yet expressive illustrations depict a small village in Poland with goats and horses where people live hand to mouth yet seem content with their lot in life.
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When an unusual older man arrives dressed in bright green, Tuvia’s goat nibbles on the man’s blue feathered hat. Meanwhile, Tuvia appears startled and wonders if the man needs help with something. Instead, he has an offer for Tuvia. “Seven good years in which you won’t need to work carrying heavy loads on your back. Seven years in which you’ll be able to buy everything in this market!”
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So how does Tuvia respond? (I’m glad you asked!). Tuvia is in shock, unsure how to respond. “What will happen at the end of the seven years?” Tuvia asks. “You’ll go back to being a porter!” he is told. Tuvia asks if he can go home and discuss it with his wife Sorka. “Go home and ask her. I’ll wait here.”
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Seven Good Years int2 magical man and Tuvia
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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“So what do you say?” Tuvia asks Sorka. And what does Sorka reply? (I’m glad you asked!) Smith inserts the phrase ‘I’m glad you asked’ throughout adding fun repetition to this uplifting tale. Tuvia is concerned about what will happen when they get old and the seven years of gold runs out. Sorka is concerned about feeding the children and paying their teacher. “Go back to the man and tell him that your Sorka says—let the seven good years begin right now!”
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The magical man is shown with a large smile on his face telling Tuvia to go home to his wife and fortune. Arriving at home, Tuvia finds his joyous children behind his ramshackle hut, along with his delighted wife, their skinny goat and … a pile of gold!
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Seven Good Years int3 family rejoices with pile of gold
Interior spread from Seven Good Years: A Yiddish Folk Tale written by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Eitan Eloa, and translated by Ilana Kurshan, Kalaniot Books ©2023.
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Seven years go by and the benevolent old man returns. Tuvia brings him to his home to tell Sorka that the seven good years are over only for the older man to discover the family still lives in the ramshackle hut and are dressed in the same tattered clothes! The mysterious man feels sorry for the family but the family says no need to feel sorry. It’s clear they are very happy.
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It turns out the family only took the money they needed to educate their children and now
that the children are finished with school, Tuvia tells the older man to give the gold to a needy
family. And what happens after that? (I’m glad you asked!) The next morning Sorka and Tuvia
find a great big pile of gold in their yard! And so begins another seven years of good fortune.
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The interesting back matter tells about Peretz, a prolific author of stories, folktales, plays, and essays in both
Yiddish and Hebrew. It also explains how Seven Good Years reflects Peretz’s appreciation for the simple piety of Eastern European Jews. The book’s message, influenced by what ancient Jewish rabbis teach, beautifully conveys what having riches actually is. “Who is wealthy? One who is content with what they have.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1) This hopeful folktale has been around for over a hundred years and still resonates today. What a meaningful read for Jewish Heritage Month and for parents to teach children that happiness is not dependent on fortune.
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Follow the book’s link here to request an activity guide.
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• Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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