Oy Vey, Meshugge

Or: Are You up for this Plan?

During the week of 21 to 27 October 2013, the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin, in cooperation with Kulturkind e.V., will host readings, workshops, and an open day for the public with the theme “Multifaceted: a book week on diversity in children’s and young adult literature.” Employees of various departments have been vigorously reading, discussing, and preparing a selection of books for the occasion. Some of these books have already been introduced here over the course of the last weeks.
Multifaceted books for children and young adults
“Meshugge” is one of the words Ace uses to comment on stuff in the children’s novel When Life Gives You O.J. Ace is the extraordinary grandpa of Zelda Fried aka Zelly, Zellybelly, Zeldale, or Zelly-bean. Grandpa has a plan that Zelly finds completely meschugge, as well as downright dumb. But what on earth is a girl to do? She has told her grandpa she is up for the scheme, and Ace would never understand if she were to back out now, or if she failed to muster the chutzpah* to see the thing through. And in any case, there’s still a chance grandpa’s plan may succeed. In which case Zelly’s dearest dream would finally come true—perhaps even before her eleventh birthday!

Book cover of the German version

© Ariella Verlag

How will mom, dad, and her little brother, Sam react? All of them love grandpa but they also know he can be more than a little crazy. With a twinkle in her eye, Zelda’s late grandma Bubbles often called him “the wisest man in Chelm”—but what does that mean exactly?
What if her friend Allie turns away from her in total embarrassment? Zelly would like to ask for her advice. But Allie has gone to summer camp for a few weeks, leaving Zelly feeling lonesome. It is only a short while since she moved from Brooklyn to Vermont, so friends are still rare, and the territory unfamiliar.
Zelly finds herself imagining how her new classmate Nicky Benoit will react. He has already teased her about her name—now, he’ll be claiming “Smelly Fried Egg” has scrambled brains! He’ll make her a laughing stock in all Vermont, in the entire region. But then Zelly accepts her grandpa’s challenge. And by the end of summer vacation, she has to admit that no one realizes the stuff she is made of until she surprises herself.

Yet before Zelly reaches this conclusion, summertime and the vacation have slipped away. Will the plan come to fruition and her greatest dream come true? Wait and see! (And even if you don’t plan to check out what the plan was, read the book anyhow—it will be well worth your while!)

Ulrike Sonnemann, Library

Erica S. Perl, When Life Gives You O.J., New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers 2011, 208 pp., suitable for ages 8–12. (German version: Opa und der Hunde-Schlamassel, translated from the American by Gesine Strempel, Berlin: Ariella Verlag 2011)

* PS: At the back of the book is “A Glossary of Yiddish Words by Zelda Irene Fried.” Here, our heroine explains for example, what “chutzpah” means:

“My mom says this means ‘nerve.’ My dad says you say this about someone who does something outrageous. Here is his example: A beggar asks for food, saying he has no money and will pay next week. The baker feels sorry and gives him a dozen bagels. The beggar then points out that the bakery rule is that if you get twelve bagels, you get an extra one free and demands a thirteenth bagel. ‘That’s chutzpah,’ is what my dad says. Chutzpah can also mean ‘courage.’ For example, it would take a lot of chutzpah to jump in a pond that might have leeches in it.”

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