Shulamith Levey Oppenheim


new work

Yanni Rubbish

Yanni Rubbish

Yanni Rubbish
Illustrated by DougChayke
1999, Boyds Mills Press
Jr. Literary Guild Selection

Yanni and his donkey, Lamia, are a familiar sight on the streets of their small Greek village. Every morning they can be seen going from house to house collecting trash in an old wagon in need of new wheels. Before Yanni's father left to find work in Germany, he told Yanni to take care of his mother and to keep the family business going. Collecting trash is hard work, and the boys in the village make it even harder. Whenever they see Yanni and Lamia coming, they shout, "Ho, ho, your donkey's lame and Yanni Rubbish is your name!" Yanni tries his best to ignore the boys. Still, the words hurt, especially the unkind words about Lamia, whom he loves. There must be some way to stop the boys from teasing him. After talking things over with his mother, Yanni comes up with a wonderful plan.

My first trip to Greece was in the early 1950s, long before there were charter flights disgorging sun-starved northern Europeans onto pristine beaches, and ferry boats to many of the islands plied the Aegean perhaps once a week, a month, or not at all. One rented a boat, if one were lucky.

It was a love affair for both my husband and myself, and later on for my children. Truly the sea, as Homer described it, was wine-dark, with a necklace of aquamarine and crystal edging the rocks. And there is a particular light in this country, conducive to utter belief in myth and oracles, a particular green to the pines that jut out from the rocks. The air is champagne, the white village honey, nectar of the gods.

And the temples! Sounion, Lindos, Aegina, Basi, Delphi, to name a few. And the jewel in the crown, the Parthenon, now only approachable to within fifty feet, if that, as tourism has increased exponentially over the years.

So, I carried this love, this passion for an ancient land, for many years, summer after summer. Then, on a trip to the island of Skopelos in the Northern Sporades, my husband took a morning climb to visit a number of monasteries that sat like whitewashed stepping stones on the mountain.


Yanni lives in a small Greek village and has taken over the job of hauling away the town's garbage while his father is working in Germany. He and his donkey are cruelly taunted by the other boys, who nickname him "Yanni Rubbish," but he and his mother eventually come up with an inspired solution to deal with the problem. The story presents an accurate picture of life in a poor Greek community as well as a gentle lesson on teasing. The impressionistic oil paintings in predominantly tans, blues, browns, and creams are beautifully done; each one in itself an artistic statement. A story that is of value for its focus on the universal problem of teasing and its positive solution.
-- School Library Journal

Set in a small Greek village, this is a touching story of a boy, Yanni Stavros, whose father has had to leave to find work in another country. Yanni wishes he didn't have to spend the day collecting trash in his dusty wagon drawn by his donkey, but he is trying to keep things going until his father comes back home. It is bad enough having to haul the smelly bags of trash and the pieces of metal that cut his hands; what makes it worse is that the other boys tease him and call him "Yanni Rubbish." Then Yanni comes up with a simple plan. With his mother, he spruces up the wagon with new wheels, a new seat, and a fresh coat of paint, and they hang a beautiful necklace of braided ribbons around the donkey's neck. Then the boys treat Yanni with respect and ask him for a ride. Chayka's expressive full-page oil paintings show the gentleness between Yanni and his mother and their bond with the small gray donkey that pulls the wagon through the narrow village streets. Not maudlin, the story is rooted in the particulars of Yanni's day. Children in migrant families will recognize the yearning. -- Booklist