The next day I saw our synagogue in ruins and I cried. Burned prayer books were everywhere. When no one was looking, I hid this one in my coat. I wanted a reminder of the place where I had been so happy.
(from The Tattered Prayer Book)
The Tattered Prayer Book by Ellen Bari is a picture book intended to be a gentle introduction to the Holocaust. When Ruthie finds a box of old photos at her grandmother’s house in a box marked “Germany,” she discovers a tattered and burned Jewish prayer book and learns that it belonged to her father when he was a young boy. Ruthie is surprised to learn that her father was born in Germany, and despite his desire to forget, he tells her his story.
Ruthie’s father describes the happy life he enjoyed in Hamburg and how everything changed after the Nazis came to power. He tells her about the friends he lost, the prayer book he found on the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) in 1938, and how he and his family came to live in America. He remembers the comfort the prayer book gave him and is grateful for the discussion prompted by Ruthie’s question.
With Avi Katz’s illustrations, which have an old-book look about them, The Tattered Prayer Book puts readers in the shoes of a young boy who witnesses so much hatred and fear yet does not lose hope. There is no mention of the death camps, mass shootings, or the systematic slaughter of millions of people, so parents need not worry that they are sharing too much too soon. But it definitely is a book that will spark questions, as children struggle to understand why the synagogues were burned, why Ruthie’s father lost his friends, and why his family had to leave their home.
The Tattered Prayer Book is more than an introduction to the Holocaust. Ultimately, it emphasizes the pain of remembering but how doing so can both honor those who perished and teach children about a period in history that should never be repeated. Just like Ruthie’s father used the prayer book as a reminder of the good times in Germany, Ruthie’s curiosity is a reminder that children long to understand and are our hope for the future.
Disclosure: I received The Tattered Prayer Book from Gihon River Press for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.