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It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale
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It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,122 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
Once upon a time a poor unfortunate man lived with his mother, his wife, and his six children in a one-room hut.

Because they were so crowded, the children often fought and the man and his wife argued. When the poor man was unable to stand it any longer, he ran to the Rabbi for help.

As he follows the Rabbi's unlikely advice, the poor man's life goes from bad to worse, with
Paperback, 32 pages
Published September 1st 1990 by Square Fish (first published September 1st 1976)
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8th out of 70 books — 46 voters
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Caldecott Honor Books
83rd out of 251 books — 177 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jan 24, 2009 Arthur rated it it was amazing
I consider picture books to be the 7" singles of the book world. Every now and then you come across the 3-minute gem called the Perfect Pop Record. And so it is with its equivalent among picture books.
Margot Zemach's IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE is one of them.
I should frame it and hang it on the wall, in case I have a bout of thinking things couldn't be worse. I should hang a copy on the wall of my office as well.
Speaking of which: this story helped me in dealing with an office situation. A tempor
This Yiddish folk tale reminded me a lot of a childhood favorite called Too Much Noise. The structure of the two stories are basically the same. Of course I have to love the one I grew up with more and look at this one as a not-quite-good-enough wanna-be. :) But I did enjoy the story and the lesson it teaches. I also enjoyed many fun details in the illustrations as the chaos in the house intensifies with each new piece of advice from the Rabbi. I really felt for the poor mom who never gets a spe ...more
Randi Haranzo
Sep 02, 2013 Randi Haranzo rated it really liked it
This children’s book is a perfect example to explain that every problem that is bothering you “could always be worse” because the poor unfortunate man follows the Rabbi’s orders and realizes that his hut isn’t so small after all. In a classroom setting this activity would allow the children to understand that we should be grateful for what we have, because we would always be in a situation where the issues could be much worse. Perhaps the teacher could have the students write on index cards thin ...more
Feb 12, 2016 Jenny rated it really liked it
A humorous approach to gratitude. A poor man's large family is crowded into a small house and there's bickering and noise and discomfort. The poor man asks the rabbi what to do and is instructed to bring his chickens, goose and rooster into the hut. Things get worse so the rabbi instructs him to bring additional animals into the hut until life is unbearable...and he recognizes that things were pretty good with just his family into the hut. After all, "it could always be worse."

While the illustr
Samantha Williamson
Mar 05, 2016 Samantha Williamson rated it it was amazing
It Could Always Be Worse, is a Yiddish folktale adapted by Margot Zemach. It’s a humorous story that teaches an important lesson. In the story, a poor man is upset by his crowded, noisy, living conditions. In his little one room hut lives: himself, his mother, his wife, and their six children. In frustration, the man visits the Rabbi for advice. The Rabbi gives strange advice, “Go home and take the chickens, the rooster and the goose into your hut to live with you.” The surprised man agrees to d ...more
Heather McWain
Jun 02, 2015 Heather McWain rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book! I thought it was a great lesson for younger students. The lesson would be that sometimes when your world seem crazy it could always be crazier. I choose to randomly read this book because of the title, because i know things can always be worse. In this book something that really stood out to me was you only heard one characters voice instead of any of the other characters. Just looking at the cover you could grasp the idea that these people lived in a small crowded ...more
I had previously read the book she created with her husband, "Duffy and the Devil", which was a bit of an odd book, but a fascinating story. I appreciated the humor in this 1978 Caldecott Honor book, which was a retelling of a Yiddish folktale. It is about a man whose wife, six children and mother all live in a one-room shack together. He comes to the Rabbi complaining about his family and the fact that they are all living together in this small house, so in order for the man to appreciate what ...more
Jan 04, 2016 Marita rated it liked it
Shelves: trina
Read this today for school with my eight year old daughter. It was cute, and I appreciated the message.
Apr 14, 2015 Maria rated it it was amazing
Shelves: folk-literature
Personal Reflection -
In this Yiddish folktale, a father struggles with coping with the chaos that is always present in his little house, so he seeks help from a Rabi. I thought this was an adorable tale to teach the lesson of taking certain things for granted. The Rabi tells the father to add more chaos to his chaotic household by bringing in all the farm animals. The father soon forgets how unchaotic the household really was in comparison to how it is with all the animals, and at the end of th
Camila Padilla
It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach

The book It Could Always Be Worse is an entertaining piece whose colorful illustrations depict the life of an impoverished man and his family that go through some strange things. The poor and unfortunate man lives with his six children, his mother, and his wife in a crowded one-room house. The man cannot take the pains of his cramped, noisy, impoverished existence no longer, and seeks the advice of his rabbi. To his surprise, the rabbi instructs the man t
Megan Laird
Feb 17, 2014 Megan Laird rated it really liked it
Shelves: group-3-reads
This excellent read aloud book provides both multicultural and moral experiences to enhance the life of the child. Margot Zemach's It Could Always Be Worse provides an excellent story of a man who struggled living with all of his family in a small home. Each day he ran to the Rabbi in search for help to create peace in their home, but the Rabbi kept insisting he add more bodies inside (chickens, goats, cows, etc.) until one day the Rabbi told him to release them all back to the outdoors. Final ...more
Feb 13, 2014 Rachael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-aloud
Margot Zemach wrote and illustrated not only a book of Caldecott honor but also with a wonderful lesson. Based on a Yiddish folk tale, "It Could Always Be Worse" is a wonderful book to be read aloud to children. With two-page spread pictures that portray wonderful enthusiasm and expression, this book's story includes irony and life lesson all in one. The poor unfortunate man in this folk tale learns that it really could always be worse. He trusts his Rabbi enough to do everything he tells him to ...more
Jun 29, 2015 Ms.Vee rated it it was amazing
Read Aloud Fables and Stories, a Yiddish Folktale.
AD 650L

I choose this book by Margot Zemach for my folktale read aloud. It is a test rich story with a good deal of new vocabulary to introduce to my students. I choose it for its multicultural aspects; our school is located in Williamsburg in a Hasidic neighborhood. I want my students to have a better understanding of our neighbors and a respect and understanding of their culture. I think that it also pairs nicely with my multicultural strong cha
Apr 14, 2015 Jaylyn rated it really liked it
Personal Reaction- Super funny story over a Jewish family living in a very small, confided area. I really think children would enjoy this story because of how ridiculous some of the parts get. The pages were very colorful and overall it was very light-hearted.

Purposes- The purpose of this book would be for 2nd-3rd graders. The story was very light-hearted. The drama that occurred was only in humor. The use of the Rabbi and the language used shows the Jewish decent. One of the first children's bo
Jun 07, 2014 Shelli rated it it was amazing
Such a fun read!!! Absolutely loved this silly fable about appreciating what you have could ALWAYS be worse. Sometimes, just like the poor unfortunate man in the story, we have to have this simple fact spelled out for us. A great read aloud.
Melanie Rightmyer
Aug 21, 2016 Melanie Rightmyer rated it really liked it
Fantastic book, cute illustrations! A great reminder to find ways to be thankful for what we have could always be worse!
Highly enjoyed by my six and seven year old!
Sep 14, 2015 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: kids-read-alouds
A great Yiddish folk tale with a powerful lesson! Good for kids and adults. :)
Angelica Cox
Mar 09, 2014 Angelica Cox rated it liked it
I thought the book was funny, but, I don’t think it is that great of a book for little children. I do believe it has a really good moral for children to learn however I don’t think it will be easy for a young child to understand it without talking about it a lot. The moral was a very good moral because everyone should be thankful for what they have and not complain if they don’t have this or that because there is always someone out there that has it much worst then us, plus things could even get ...more
Brittany Harper
Nov 29, 2015 Brittany Harper added it
Shelves: folk
In this folktale, a man living in an overcrowded hut with his family complains to a wise rabbi. The rabbi gives him interesting advice and shows him that things could always be worse. This book teaches readers to look on the positive side and remember that no matter how bad things seem to be, they could be worse. I would love to read this to a class but because of the religious aspect, I would not be able to.

Activity: If I could read this in the classroom, I would have students find the element
Jan 25, 2015 Mj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Margot Zemach is both the author and illustrator of this retelling of a Yiddish folk tale.

It’s a children’s picture book with a great message for all ages. The illustrations are wonderful. They are funny and full of humour and really enhance the story. Publishers Weekly wrote, ``Zemach's colorful and lusty paintings are hilariously illustrative of the absurd doings.” Children and adults alike will find lots to giggle and laugh about.

I also loved the illustrations’ detail and colour. There are s
Oct 05, 2010 N_katieg52 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
It Could Always Be Worse is a cute folktale where a man is very unhappy with his life. He says that his house is too crowded and noisy. He went to his Rabbi for help. The Rabbi would have him add animals to the house, and each time the man would go back to the Rabbi and say that his life is miserable and couldn’t be any worse. The cycle continues, and finally at the end of the book the Rabbi tells the man to take the animals out of the house…how do you think the man felt? It was enjoyable to rea ...more
I loved this book! i thought that it taught such a good lesson, it really could always be worse! The way that the lesson is taught is funny, and fun to read! I think that it was a good folk tale even though it is a little older I think kids would still find it really enjoyable. I loved this book and i think it would be great for a class room read aloud! The plot was enjoyable and all the craziness in the house was fun to read about.
Oct 15, 2009 Janna added it
Shelves: pbgs-choice-3
The title page says this is a Yiddish folk tale retold. I would not have known this story was Yiddish without this information because the story could be about any family. The setting is vague; the story starts with “once upon a time in a small village” and it does not say the location of this village, so it is obvious this story was passed down orally. As I read the first two pages I felt like a first grader that figured out the answer; I already knew the moral of the story because the title ga ...more
Apr 27, 2016 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-to-the-kids
This stretched my Spanish but I could translate it well enough for my kids. I wanted the English version, but my library didn't have it. I love that it teaches "what you have might not be so bad." Read the English, if you can get it. It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale
The title of this book is my mantra. Things could always be worse. So, naturally, I love this little folk tale. Incidentally, so does my therapist-she recommended it to me. She has not, however, recommended that I bring farm animals into my house like the holy rabbi in this story. Thank goodness because my farm animals can get ROWDY.
Matthew Greene
Feb 08, 2016 Matthew Greene rated it liked it
As I finished this book, I wondered if I had liked this one or not. And three days later since I have read it, I still am wondering If I like this one. It has a somewhat good message that things could always be worse than they are, but then again I don't think belittling ones problems is healthy either so I am still on the fence.
Sep 17, 2013 Mayra rated it really liked it
The Caldecott Honor book,"It Could Always be Worse" tells a tale about a very large and unfortunate family that live in a crowded one room hut. The poor and unfortunate man learned the life lesson of "it could always be worse", after he followed the Rabbi's advice of taking all the animals that the poor man owned to live in their crowded house. After getting rid of the animals, the poor man realizes that they did not live so crowded after all. The concludes that he could have had it worse than t ...more
Calie Youmans
Nov 29, 2015 Calie Youmans rated it liked it
Shelves: folk
It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale takes place long ago in an over crowded city. He reaches out to his Rabbi for relief and the Rabbi shows him all things come in time and all things are relative. This book teaches great religious values for preschool aged children. The illustrations are a little complex but pleasant.
Sadly, I would not be able to read this book in class due to the religious aspect.
This is a great book to read to help put your problems in perspective. The illustrations are great, because it's fun to look at what each family member is doing as the conditions in the hut grow more crowded and crazy. I'm looking forward to sharing this book with kids to see what they think of it.
Sarah Davis
Mar 22, 2015 Sarah Davis rated it really liked it
What a perfect way to explain exactly what the title suggests, it could always be worse. The chaos in every illustration of the hut makes you understand the poor man's pain. It's a great way to teach the lesson that you shouldn't complain about what you have because that will only make matters worse.
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