Book Reviewed: I Will Come Back For You: A Family in Hiding During World War II – Marisabina Russo, Schwartz and Wade Books, 2011
Yom HaShoah, the day on which Jews commemorate the victims of the Holocaust by remembering history, falls this year on April 12. It is difficult, but also extremely important, to select age-appropriate books for children and young adults on this subject. There are no perfect guidelines; some children may be ready to process information that others of the same age simply cannot assimilate. (link to Jewish Book Council review and their lists). Is it best to focus on tales of survival and resilience, or, in doing so, are we misrepresenting a cataclysmic series of events? It is dishonest and disrespectful to the memories of those lost to invent a false narrative in the guise of protecting children. We can only do our best to gradually introduce the highest quality books on this subject and to understand when children are simply not ready. Marisabina Russo’s picture book, based on the experiences of her own family during World War II, is straightforward in narrating tragic events, but subtle and artful at the same time.
On the first pages of I Will Come Back For You, a block of text is surrounded by pictures of small gold charms. On the facing page, a little girl sits on the couch with her grandmother, touching her bracelet. Her grandmother explains that each charm represents part of her story, the dramatic events of her life in Italy during the War and her escape to America. The reader then follows the donkey, piano, bicycle, piglet, barn, spinning wheel, and boat through their terrifying course, and yet, the comforting setting lets her or him know that this particular Holocaust experience will end in rescue, if not for everyone involved.
The book’s endpapers consist of black and white photographs with captions that familiarize the reader with the book’s main characters, and also juxtapose history with drawings and text that might otherwise seem like fables or adventure to elementary age readers. There is an afterward that provides context, including the sad information that the grandmother’s father did not survive…although the fact that he died fighting the Nazis as a partisan is certainly an indispensable component of Holocaust education. It is also important that the story includes both Italians who actively betrayed Jews in support of the Fascist government and those who risked their own lives sheltering the persecuted. Russo’s softly colored pictures and repeated use of the gold charms to signal the progress from fear to rescue helps to ground the story. Pictures set in the family’s home and in the country seem more idealized than those depicting the Fascist-controlled city itself, which are more detailed. This artistic choice contrasts the nurturing atmosphere of family and friends with the harsh menace of evil.
I Will Come Back For You provides a rich opportunity for learning about the Holocaust, and about courage, trust, and the links between generations.