"The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in art and words." -Peter Reynolds

Friday, April 11, 2014

One Candle

One Candle by Eve Bunting and illustrated by K. Wendy Popp, was published in 2002 by Joanna Cotler Books. From the cover, endpapers, and front matter, we can tell this is a story about Judaism and Jewish holidays. The narrator is a young Jewish girl who is celebrating Hanukkah with her family. We see them all smiling, cooking, eating at the dinner table. Then Grandma and Great-Aunt Rose begin to tell their story from WWII and how they were taken from their families. The entire family is silent as they listen to their incredible story.

"'Well, it happened when we were young. We were separated from our families and put into a camp. it was called Buchenwald. That was in Germany. There was a war on at that time, and the Germans didn't like the Jews."

We find out that both women were 12-13 years old and worked in the kitchens making food for Nazi officers. One day Grandma stole a potato, two matches, and margarine after work. When they got back to the barracks, Grandma made a candle out of the potato to celebrate Hanukkah. Which is why the family still creates a candle from the potato today. "'That Hanukkah candle lifted us,' Grandma says, and there are tears in her eyes. 'It lifted us to the stars.'" The story ends with the young girl putting the potato candle on the windowsill next to the menorah and watching the glow from outside.

I am not Jewish and only know about Judaism and WWII from what I've learned in school, but this book seems to be very historically accurate to me. Eve Bunting is not Jewish either but she is known for her books about diverse, controversial topics. I really enjoyed Popp's illustrations for this story. They are muted colors and extremely realistic which fits the story perfectly. Most of the colors used are shades of brown, black, and maroon. The illustrations mimic photographs and have a dim, almost sad theme to them; although the story itself is uplifting. I especially love the pages where we see flashbacks of what the women experienced. The side by side comparison of the two times was absolutely fascinating. It gives the story a deeper meaning and impact for the reader.

This is a great story for teaching students about Judaism as another religion people celebrate as well as WWII. For older students, it would be a wonderful way to generate deep questions WWII and Nazi Germany.

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