Tova lives with her family on a small farm in the famous town of Chelm, a mythical village populated, according to Jewish folklore, by fools. Tova's farm has hens and even a rooster, but no cow. Her mother, Rivka, wishes they could afford to buy a cow, so they could have fresh milk and butter every day. One night Tova's father has a dream about how to get milk without actually owning a cow. He asks Tova to help him find a way to get milk from their hens, and the results are hilarious. Finally, to the family's joy and the hens' relief, the problem is solved by none other than the wise Rabbi of Chelm himself, and a little extra help from Tova.
On this visit to Chelm, which in Jewish folklore is the hotbed for all things silly, readers meet Shlomo and Rivka, a kindly couple who have "five children, twelve scrawny hens, one rooster and not much money." Yearning for a little milk and cheese and unable to afford a cow, Shlomo engages in some magical thinking of the animal husbandry kind. Since cows eat grass, he reasons, "...if we feed grass to our hens, they will still lay eggs, but they will also give us milk." With help from six-year-old Tova, their brightest child ("bright" being a relative term in Chelm), the addlepated rabbi of Chelm, and plenty of skewed logic, everyone ends up a winner including the beleaguered hens. It's easy for Chelm stories to feel by-the-numbers or condescending toward their characters, but Stuchner (Josephine's Dream) and Weissman (Mom, the School Flooded) never fall into that trap. They forgo dwelling on Chelm's backstory, letting the goofy events speak for themselves through brisk, almost reportorial storytelling and genial cartooning. It's the literary equivalent of a merry wink which is just what this genre needed. Ages 4 8.