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'Beautiful Yetta': A Yiddish Chicken With Chutzpah

by NPR Staff
Aug 14, 2010 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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Daniel Pinkwater's new children's book, Beautiful Yetta, isn't your average bedtime story. The story may seem traditional — a chicken escapes from the butcher's shop and finds a new home among parrots in Brooklyn — but the characters in the book don't just speak one language to each other. There's English, there's Spanish, and there's Yiddish, translated phonetically for those who can't read the Hebrew characters — all fleshing out an uplifting tale of acceptance in the urban jungle.

Author Daniel Pinkwater says this multilingual approach was inspired by his childhood: "Growing up there was Yiddish in the background in my family, as in many families. In our case, the parents didn't really want us to understand it, because they used it as code, it was a secret language."

Pinkwater wanted to give young children a taste of translation, and it perfectly accompanies the story's themes of diversity and multiculturalism. "It's an experience of translation and comparative orthography, mixed in with a story that turns out to be heartwarming and nice." Pinkwater notes that the book "doesn't mean to be a Rosetta stone," however.

To give NPR listeners a chance to hear the book in all its multilingual glory, Weekend Edition hosts Scott Simon and Liane Hansen invited producer Sarah Beyer Kelley and Pinkwater himself to read the book aloud. The story truly comes to life in this vivid retelling — even if some of the narrators have trouble keeping a straight face amidst all the Yiddish-isms.

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