Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories Essay - Critical Context

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Critical Context

Zlateh the Goat, and Other Stories was Isaac Bashevis Singer’s first book for children. He was sixty-two years old and a well-established author when an editor of juvenile fiction at Harper & Row persuaded him that his writing—full of demons and imps—was, as he recalls, “the very stuff that children might love.”

Most reviewers agreed. In Horn Book magazine, Helen B. Crawshaw described the collection as “a gift of seven stories for all children.” In 1967, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories was named a Newbery Honor Book. Singer would publish sixteen additional books for children before his death in 1991.

In the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll, and Kenneth Grahame, respect for children’s understanding marks Singer’s writing for them. “No matter how young they are,” he remarked, “children are deeply concerned with so-called eternal questions.” Singer, who would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978, credited children with being “the best readers of genuine literature.” That it is “rooted” in folklore “alone makes children’s literature so important,” he claimed, adding that without folklore, “literature must decline and wither away.”

The shtetl’s wise men of Chelm, it has been critically noted, resemble Britain’s legendary wise men of Gotham. Additionally, the schlemiel is kin to fools encountered in folk literature the world over. “The more a writer is rooted in his environment,” Singer has explained, “the more he is understood by all people.” In the decades following the publication of Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, more folktales from around the world would appear in books for children in the United States, in response to an increasing interest in multiculturalism.