The Tattered Prayer Book came across my desk a few months ago, and I found it poignant and well done; however, I got caught up with some other blogging ideas percolating in my brain and never got around to writing about this powerful picture book. Today, I’d like to correct that.
This book is, of course, unusual—not in its being a Holocaust book—but rather, a picture book about the Holocaust. Today, picture books often address serious topics and thus, can help us find an entrée into an otherwise awkward or difficult conversation with the children in our lives. Adults are seeking these kind of books, as evidenced by the fact that one of my top-viewed posts is Books for Sad and Scary Times.
And, surely, few subjects are more challenging to explain…to process…to understand…than the Holocaust. Consequently, Holocaust education is a process. Educators, parents, grandparents and occasionally, great-grandparents gradually lay a foundation for children and add to it as they mature.
We know that starting with an age-appropriate story and characters that children can relate to will go a long way in helping them develop empathy, both in general, and specifically, for those affected by the Holocaust. This book does just that by presenting the simple, yet moving, story of Ruthie and her family.
While visiting her grandparents one Sunday, Ruthie discovers a box of family mementos from Germany. A special prayer book that belonged to her father as a child captures her interest. At first, her father, having long suppressed his memories of the past, is reluctant to answer her questions surrounding the book. She begs him to remember and he tells her the story behind their family leaving Germany and coming to America. Remembering and sharing their family story turns out to be a good thing—one that promotes healing, bonding and growth.
This reminds me, in part, of a quote I included in an earlier post about my father:
The most important thing you can do may be the easiest of all. Tell your children the story of their family. Children who know more about their parents, grandparents, and other relatives – both their ups and their downs – have higher self-esteem and greater confidence to confront their own challenges. Researchers have found that knowing more about family history is the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.
The Tattered Prayer Book succeeds in offering children aged six through ten a gentle introduction to a tragic part of world history; this is because everyone involved with the book brought something special to this collaboration. The author, Ellen Bari, whose father and uncle are survivors, has written a sensitive, compelling and accessible story without including graphic violence. She has said that this story is somewhat autobiographical and indeed, some of the illustrations are based on her family photographs and artifacts. The talented, award-winning artist/illustrator/political cartoonist Avi Katz hits just the right note in interpreting the material. A nostalgic, sepia tone is used throughout, coupled with other well-chosen details, such as different typography and framed pages for the flashbacks.
A beautifully-worded letter from the preeminent Holocaust scholar, Michael Berenbaum, serves as an introduction.
The publisher, Stephen Feuer, founded Gihon River Press in 2009 expressly to preserve and publish Holocaust stories for adults and children. He is interested in finding stories of historical significance that will resonate with mainstream audiences and works closely with the authors.
This book can be a springboard for discussion whether at home or in a classroom. Sadly, the themes running through the Holocaust are just as relevant today: bullying, stereotyping, racism, discrimination and blind hatred. Even young children will understand the concepts of bullying, victimization and standing up for what you know is right. Focus on respect, tolerance and taking personal responsibility. These conversations will hopefully empower children to feel as if each individual can be a force for good in the world.
The Tattered Prayer Book has garnered several awards, among them, the Mom’s Choice Award, which honors excellence in family-friendly media, products and services.