WHAT ROSA BROUGHT by Jacob Sager Weinstein and Eliza Wheeler is the story of the author’s mother, how she fled Nazi-occupied Vienna, and what she brought with her to America. The book begins with Rosa being looked after by her loving grandmother in a sun-filled city while her parents tend their grocery store. But soon, Nazis arrive and Rosa’s Jewish family is forced to give up their business. Rosa’s father comes up with a clever way to keep the family afloat and help their Jewish neighbors while working on plans to escape the increasingly dangerous situation. As their departure becomes imminent, Rosa ponders what she will take from her life in Vienna across the sea to America. But when it becomes clear her grandmother will not be able to come with them, Rosa realizes that the most important thing she will bring is not something that can be packed in a trunk. The beautifully-crafted text is paired with stunning, ethereal illustrations, beginning with sunny, warm colors in the first spreads, and darkening to greens, blues, grays, and blacks as fear and danger escalate.
WHAT ROSA BROUGHT is a perfect example of the power of the picture book form. I went from awwwww to goosebumps in a matter of two spreads. My heart was in pieces on page 29, and practically put back together again by page 31. This book is devastating and it’s hopeful.
One of the most brilliant craft elements of this book is the masterful use of dialogue. How do you help children understand what is was like to be a Jew in Austria in 1939 without losing the narrative and bogging down the pace with long descriptions? Jacob accomplishes this seamlessly through Rosa’s questions—questions that the child reader will also have. And as Rosa’s parents, grandmother, and rabbi explain to her what is happening to their world, the reader begins to understand a complicated and hard history.
I always read author’s notes, but I don’t always read them to children. Jacob’s short note explaining what is fact and what is imagined is well-worth reading aloud and has the same gentle tone as the text. A few photographs are also included.
Congratulations to Debra Schumaker for winning a copy of HOW TO BIRD by Rasha Hamid in last month’s giveaway.