Women in Auschwitz secretly make a birthday gift.
This historical piece uses a frame story with a temporal double-remove: a first-person narrator looks back to the time “When I was young” and learned about her mother’s Holocaust experience. Narrator Sorale is a blank; her mother, Fania, is the real protagonist, turning 20 in the Nazi camp. Fania’s friends, despite the danger, craft her “a tiny book shaped like a heart, no bigger than a butterfly,” filled with handwritten messages. Sorale and Fania (white and Jewish) have awkwardly frozen faces and stiff hands in the frame story’s illustrations, but Rudnicki shows Auschwitz’s oppressiveness hauntingly in tertiary blues and pale, rusty orange-beiges. His rows of prisoners in stripes, with similar faces and skin creepily matching the backgrounds, powerfully evoke dehumanization and even imply disappearance. However, readers unfamiliar with the Holocaust won’t get all of that. They’ll absorb the fear, crowding, hunger, and cold of Auschwitz, but the “great darkness” that stole Fania’s family remains enigmatic—gassing and mass extermination are unmentioned. Death looms explicitly but not the scope or means—the threat sounds individual. Fania’s friends’ fates are unaddressed. An author’s note adds some historical detail and photographs of the actual book, which lives at the Montreal Holocaust Museum.
Expressive but incomplete; share it with other Holocaust books or lots of caregiver context. (author’s note) (Picture book. 8-11)