Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Promise by Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe, illustrated by Isabella Cardinal

On the night that the Nazis took all the adults in their town away, sisters Rachel and Toby are separated from their parents but not before they are given a shoe paste tin with three gold coins in it. Not knowing what is going to happen to them, they are told to use the coins only if they have to, that they would know when the time was right. And most importantly, they must promise to try to always stay together.

Two years later, the sisters are now in Barrack 25 in Auschwitz, along with many other Jewish girls. Every other day, the girls build a wall of heavy fieldstone, and then, they tear it down only to begin again. When a girl gets sick, she is taken to the hospital and never seen again. Everyone in the barrack knows what has happened to her and do their best not to get sick, despite insufficient clothing, food, and bedding in bad weather.

When Rachel becomes ill, there is nothing Toby can do to prevent her from being taken to the hospital while she is working. Discovering Rachel gone when she returns, Toby knows she needs to do something quickly, or she will never see her sister again. Is this the right time to use the gold coins her parents gave them?

Using her wits, some clever planning, some luck, and the gold coins, Toby manages to get Rachel out of the hospital and back to the barrack. But the next day at roll call, she pays dearly for what she has done when the guard sees Rachel on line but not in her roll book. The guard whips Toby on her back with the leash of her dog, but she didn't send Rachel back to the hospital. Both sisters survive the war and walk out of Auschwitz together.

The Promise is a compelling and inspirational picture book for older readers about the importance of keeping promises, of family, and of the strength of sisterly love, particularly under the kinds of circumstances Toby and Rachel found themselves in trying to survive Auschwitz. And although it is a fictionalized biography, it is based on the real life experiences of sisters Toby, mother of author Margie Wolfe, and Rachel, mother of author Pnina Bat Zvi.

Photos of Toby and Rachel
The illustrations by Isabella Cardinal are done in a mixed-media of collage and photos together with textural drawings and finished in Photoshop, and really capture the emotions that sisters were feeling, and the anger and hate the guards had for them. The Holocaust was a very dark time in history and the illustrations aptly reflect that.

Holocaust picture books are always a difficult subject for young readers - how much graphic description to include. If too much is included there's the risk that the young reader will be so traumatized by what they read, that they never want to read about the Holocaust again. And although Toby and Rachel, like everyone in a Nazi concentration camp, faced beatings, brutality, starvation, and death everyday, Wolfe and her cousin Bat Zvi have managed to find a balance between the mistreatment and the love and resilience that kept these two sisters fighting for their lives.

The Promise is an important addition to the literature of the Holocaust, especially as it recedes into history. Keeping the Shoah alive by remembering it is so important now.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

You can read in interesting interview with authors Margie Wolfe and Pnina Bat Zvi and illustrator Isabella Cardinal HERE

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this book, Alex, a thorough and compelling review.