The Snake and the Mouse

June 13, 2012 | By

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The Israeli children’s picture book K’she-hanachash V’ha-achbar Nifgeshu Larishonah (“When the Snake and the Mouse First Met”) is a fable worthy of Aesop.

A baby snake is wandering through the forest when it comes upon a baby mouse. They spend the day together, learning about each other. Each returns home and tells his mother about what happened. The mothers–both horrified–tell their children that the other animal is their natural enemy.

The next time the two meet, nothing is the same. Both are distrustful, and leave quickly. The book’s ambiguous ending asks the question, what will happen when the two meet again?

The story, published in 1986, was written by Shelley Elkayam, a Mizrahi activist and one of Israel’s most celebrated children’s authors. Recently, her book received an unexpected boost in popularity–during his imprisonment, Gilad Shalit’s family published a book, When the Shark and Fish First Metwhich he wrote as a child (watch American children narrate the book here).

Except for the animals, the two stories are basically the same. When it was first released, the Shalit family denied any connection, and Elkayam threatened to sue. But Shalit’s version was successful, not only in spreading the news of his capture (the original illustrations toured internationally as an exhibition), but in giving Elkayam’s original a resurgence of popularity.

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