Rachel does not like having to be responsible for her little sister Hannah, who idolizes her and wants to be just like her.
Papa has a good job, and Bubbie takes in laundry. Her mother has quit her job in order to design and sew a dress for a client, hoping eventually to start her own business. Every penny counts. But Rachel wants new buttons on her old skirt to wear for Rosh Hashanah. Mama gives her a nickel and she has six pennies of her own, but the beautiful rose buttons she craves cost more. The button seller agrees to hold the buttons, along with some for Hannah, until Rosh Hashanah. Now Rachel must earn the money. The drugstore has the only telephone on the block, and when calls come in, she brings the intended recipients to the phone, sometimes getting a penny for her help. When Hannah gets lost trying to help her, Rachel learns the value of generosity, and a very happy holiday ensues. Wolff has constructed a sweet, nostalgic vignette of early-20th-century immigrant New York City, alluding to the difficulties but stressing the goodness. Rachel and her family, friends, and neighbors are not anachronisms or caricatures but are entirely accessible to modern readers. Lucas’ lovely black-and-white drawings, reminiscent of Helen John’s in Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family (1951), are perfectly in sync with the spirit of the text.
Hope, love, determination, and kindness abound. (Historical fiction. 7-10)