Sonderbooks

Sonderbooks Book Review of

Erika's Story

by Ruth Vander Zee

illustrated by Roberto Innocenti


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Erika's Story

by Ruth Vander Zee

illustrated by Roberto Innocenti

Review posted December 10, 2011.
Creative Editions, Mankato, MN, 2003. 24 pages.

I actually found this book when I was weeding library books that hadn't been checked out in two years. This one was in good condition, and when I started reading it, I was transfixed. It was too good to weed from the collection, and too powerful not to check out and review.

I should add that nonfiction picture books like this one easily get lost on the shelves. It's not suitable for a school report, and kids usually don't go looking in the nonfiction section for powerful stories. So they don't get read as often as they deserve to be.

The story in this book is simple, and it's powerfully told. The author met a Jewish lady in Rothenburg, Germany, and relates her story. The lady, Erika, speculates about how it must have been for her parents, herded onto a cattle car headed for the concentration camps. But she doesn't know anything about them for sure.

As the train slowed through a village, my mother must have looked up through the opening near the top of the cattle car. With my father, she must have tried spreading the barbed wire that covered the hole. My mother must have lifted me over her head and toward the dim daylight. What happened next is the only thing I know for sure.

My mother threw me from the train.

Erika was taken in by a woman who risked her life by caring for Erika and giving her a name and an approximate birthdate. She grew up and married and had children of her own.

The story is told simply and starkly. The pictures are beautiful and realistic. It's interesting that the artist doesn't show anybody's faces except the baby, as if to emphasize all that Erika doesn't know about her family. The pink baby blanket is also the brightest spot of color in the pictures from the past.

The story is also gently told, with an emphasis on Erika's survival. You could read this to a child and then talk about it as much or as little as you like, but it's a relatively gentle introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust.

And it's definitely powerful for an adult reader, too. What would it take for a mother to throw her baby off a train? The book doesn't ask any questions like that, which leaves the readers asking themselves.