Why does Nonna have such curious charms on her bracelet—and why does she never take the bracelet off? The story takes her granddaughter and readers back to Rome during WWII, when Nonna and her family, along with other Jews, were caught in the ever-tightening grip of the Nazis. Each of the seven charms represents moments of hope and horror: a donkey reminds Nonna of the cart that took her, her brother, and her mother to visit Papà after he was detained; the tiny pig prompts the telling of how Nonna and her brother, separated from their mother for weeks, hid in baskets of real piglets while escaping into the mountains to be reunited with her. As she did with Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II (2005), Russo bases this book on her own family history. Her writing is direct but always reassuring, and her naïf gauche illustrations, rendered in saturated autumnal tones, feel very close to the actual family photographs that serve as the book's endpapers. Ingenuity and compassion are recurring themes in this eloquent portrayal of a family's struggle for freedom. Ages 5–9. (Sept.)
During World War II, families were divided by circumstance and brutality but some, through a combination of kindness from neighbors and luck, managed to survive the war and reunite. This is such a story based on the true experiences of the author's Italian family. Using a grandmother's charm bracelet as a story telling device, the author recounts a family's escape from Rome to the Italian countryside where, with the help of farming families, the parents escape the Nazi invaders and the children are raised in a loving and supportive atmosphere. This is a book to introduce the subject of the Holocaust because the lovely folkloric pictures are actually calming, even charming. They cannot, however, conceal the fact that the father of the family is imprisoned by the Nazis and ultimately dies while fighting the partisans. Yet the real horrors of the war are referred to, not graphically explored. The somewhat humorous story of a slumbering Nazi guard whose overdose of pasta and vino allows Mama to escape is a light touch. Still the reality exists; families lost each other for long periods of time and were reunited only after the soldiers were defeated. Personally, I would have liked to know more about the family's ultimate departure for America but perhaps that is the subject for another book. The author's personal photos of her family in Italy on the inside front and back covers adds authenticity to the story and nostalgia for the years of pre-war unity and post-war reunion. A postscript points out that a significant number of Italian Jews survived the Holocaust because of the goodwill of their neighbors. A good start for children mature enough to enter into a discussion of the Holocaust and its impact. Glossary is front matter in this book. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Gr 2–4—Russo tells a simplified version of her Jewish family's World War II experiences in Italy. A modern framing story provides comforting distance, and the tale of family separation, hiding, and a father's (offstage) death is told with great sensitivity. The warm gouache paintings make the family's affection clear and emphasize the positive moments they are able to snatch during this terrible time. Period photographs of Russo's family decorate the endpapers. This is a fictionalized memoir from the point of view of an individual child; it bears witness to but does not teach history or expound on major themes or lessons of the Holocaust. While it is well written and beautifully illustrated, it joins a crowded field of Holocaust testimony and stands out only for the extreme gentleness of its style. Its picture-book format and sweet illustrations may make it a difficult sell for older readers who are ready to learn about this harsh history, while its content may raise troubling questions among younger readers for whom its format is most appropriate. A title such as this should be used judiciously, with adult guidance.—Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL
A fictionalized Holocaust account that may make readers wonder why the author didn't trust her own story.
Nonna, the grandmother who narrates this story, has tiny charms on her bracelet: a donkey, a piglet, a spinning wheel, a boat. Each item reminds her of her escape from Italy during World War II. She and her brother hid in a basket full of pigs, on its way to a farm in the country. They sailed on a boat to America. Some children will think the charm bracelet is exactly right, the perfect storybook image to sum up her escape. More skeptical children will say: Wait, did the person who made the bracelet have a spinning-wheel charm just sitting around? Or did someone ask him to make a spinning wheel, even though the wheel was just a small part of Nonna's story? Children who read all the way through the afterword will find out that there was no charm bracelet in real life, and, actually, Nonna was a boy. Russo has turned their story into a little fable, a small, snapshot version of the war. The real history is moving its own right and full of miraculous escapes, but it isn't a fable.
Some readers will love the little miracle of the charm bracelet. Others will want the whole truth, even if it isn't a tidy story.
(Picture book. 6-11)