Erika's Storyby Ruth Vander Zee, Roberto Innocenti
A Jewish woman recounts how her mother was able to spare her from the horrors of the Holocaust as an infant.
Publishers WeeklyThis picture book may raise more questions than it answers, starting with the five-pointed die-cut star on the cover, a window to the yellow page beneath. Is this supposed to be a reference to the Star of David, like the one worn by Erika, whom the author (in an author's note) claims to have met in a German village in 1995 and whose story she purports to tell here? Erika believes she was a few months old when she was thrown from a train bound for Dachau and saved by a kind and courageous woman. Her Erika is caught in lengthy conjecture about her parents and their tragic plight. Of her rescuer and of her own life Erika says little, other than the critical news that she has children and grandchildren, and that her star "still shines." (Perhaps this is what's meant by the cover?) Vander Zee has more the beginnings of a story than a nuanced work, but Innocenti (Rose Blanche) lives up to his admirers' expectations with his haunting, even harrowing drawings. Grim black-and-white illustrations show adults and children entering cattle cars, their faces blocked by headscarves or by the barrier reading "Verboten"; the German soldiers present only their impervious backs to readers. As the train pulls out, Innocenti imagines a snow-white baby carriage left by the track, its emptiness speaking volumes. With other images, both real and nightmarish, the art conveys a measure of the anguish of the Nazi victims' vulnerability. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's LiteratureThe views of the Nazi deportation to concentration camps and the cover cut-out making a yellow star bring instant response to those familiar with Holocaust literature. But Vander Zee's story can evoke the chill and horror of those times even for those who don't know much about it. The author tells of meeting a woman in Germany who has a dreadful but inspiring tale to tell. For when she was an infant, her mother, in desperation knowing her probable destination, throws her out of the cattle car on the way to the death camps. She is cared for by a woman who risks her life to raise her. The narrator tells Vander Zee of her own family, children and grandchildren. "Today my tree once again has roots. My star still shines." Innocenti multiplies the emotional impact of the simple telling with photo-realistic pictures chiefly conceived in tones of gray/green with tiny touches of color like the baby's pink blanket. The final double-page scene is a contemporary view, in color, of a girl watching a freight train pass. The peaceful scene of hanging wash, ducks and cat, contrast with the horrors of the earlier events. Innocenti's Rose Blanche presents another similar picture of that horrible time with renewed hope coming through the pain. 2003, Creative Editions, Ages 8 to 12.
Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library JournalThis picture book is a read-aloud candidate for high school classes. It tells a powerful and true story of sacrifice and survival. The book opens in 1944, during the Holocaust. Erika and her mother are traveling in a train car bearing the Star of David. As the train slows to pass a small village, the woman throws her infant out of the window. "On her way to death, my mother threw me to life," recounts the narrator. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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