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Eastern Europe - Jewish
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Eastern Europe – Jewish


Singer, Isaac Bashevis. 1966. “Zlateh the goat.” In Zlateh the goat and other stories. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. (Translated from Yiddish).


Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ (out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Picture taken from


Summary: As young Aaron is taking Zlateh, a prized goat, to the butcher, he and the goat get caught in a major snowstorm. The two keep each other company and help each other survive. When Aaron and Zlateh finally return home safely, his parents and siblings are overjoyed, and no one ever mentions selling the goat again.


Type: realtistic tale


Characters: While Aaron is a fairly one-dimensional character, he has more depth than most folktale heroes. Twelve-year-old Arraon is obedient to his father, quick-thinking, and loving.  He appreciates nature, particularly the stars, the snowy landscape, and the companionship, food, and warmth that Zlateh provides. In the end, Aaron makes his own decision, determining that love is more important than obedience. Zlateh has some personality, too. Readers learn that the goat is enormously trusting, loving, a good listener, and a good companion.


Setting: Readers do not know exactly where the folktale takes place, but they do know that the setting is a rural peasant village in a location that generally experiences harsh winters. Readers also know the time of year: Hanukkah, which usually falls in December.


Plot: The plot is straightforward. Because it was a bad year financially, Reuven (Aaron’s father) decides to sell Zlateh, a twelve-year-old goat.  Although he loves the goat, Aaron, who is the same age as Zlateh, obeys his father and sets off to the butcher. Caught in a massive snowstorm, Aaron and Zlateh find shelter in a haystack for three days, and they gain physical and emotional sustenance from each other. After the storm, Aaron decides to head home instead of to the butcher.  After the pair returns to a relieved family, Zlateh remains a beloved family member.


Theme: The major theme seems to be about the strong bond that exists between two creatures (human or otherwise) that love each other. Love makes us willing to help, protect, and nourish another. Love brings out our best and our willingness to take risks. Sometimes, love is more important than obedience.


Rating Considerations:  This realistic folktale is heart-warming. Readers truly care about Aaron and Zlateh.


Illustrations: Sendak’s three black and white illustrations seem just right for this story. The detailed pen and ink drawings convey the closeness of the boy and goat and the chill of the landscape. Sendak’s detailed brush strokes help readers feel Aaron’s coldness and sense of desolation as well as the reassurance he gains from Zlateh’s presence.