THE LILY CUPBOARD by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim
Kirkus Star


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The author of Appleblossom (p. 20), a Passover story set in Eastern Europe, re-creates a more somber chapter from the Jewish experience. Miriam, about five in Himler's tender illustrations, tells how her parents hid her when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940. Opening with a brief but explicit summary of the danger (""Jews...were sent to concentration camps, where many died a hideous death""), Miriam's narration focuses on her parents' love and care for her, the sorrow of all three at their parting, and the kindness of the farm family that takes her in. They have a hidden cupboard that opens when a painted lily is pressed; there she is to hide at need. Miriam's grief is not easily assuaged, but a pet rabbit offers some solace; in a final, dramatic scene, she almost doesn't make it to the hiding place in time because she is determined to protect her new pet. Oppenheim concludes there, pointing out the heroism of the many host families like Miriam's but leaving open the question of whether she or her parents survived--a wise, honest decision that avoids either telling more than is appropriate for young children or contriving an unrealistically happy ending. The carefully honed text includes some exquisitely touching details: asked to choose just one of her three dolls to take with her, Miriam replies, ""No dolls...they have to stay together."" Himler's lovely, understated watercolors beautifully evoke the setting and the warmth of the relationships. An exceptionally sensitive and effective portrayal of a difficult subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1992
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: HarperCollins