Review: The Welcome Chair


The Welcome Chair

by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Simon & Schuster

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Mirele Kessous

Many people are familiar with Rosemary Wells as a beloved writer and illustrator of the Max and Ruby picture books. The audience for her latest book, The Welcome Chair, is slightly older, anywhere from precocious 1st graders through 4th graders. The semi-autobiographical story follows a rocking chair throughout generations and owners. It starts with Wells’ Jewish great-great grandfather in Germany and leads up to the present day. Wells took poetic license to imagine where this special chair would have traveled after her family surrendered it. The theme of immigration has a strong and positive presence in this book, as the owners of the chair are all new immigrants, and all of them carve the word “welcome” into the back of the chair in their respective languages. The narrative moves forward briskly, without dwelling too long on any one owner, often jumping abruptly to the next owner without warning. One wonders where the story is ultimately heading. Nevertheless, Wells does have a knack for writing in a simple, straightforward way that children can understand.

The book rises to the next level with Caldecott-Award winner Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations. Intricate pencil, pastel and watercolor spreads give readers plenty to look at, so kids will stay attentive even when some pages contain lots of text. This story makes for a good read-aloud.

The book meets the award criteria in terms of literary merit but is lacking in "positive Jewish content." I'd say the book has the bare minimum of Jewish content -- only the first page or so, and much of that content is describing her Great-Great-Grandfather fleeing his religious family, so not the most positive. The overall pro-immigration message of welcoming the stranger is a good match for Jewish values but this title may not be a good fit for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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Reviewer Mirele Kessous is the Assistant Library Media Specialist at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland. She is a certified librarian with a specialty in children's/young adult library services and moonlights as an illustrator. She married an Israeli and has 3 small children.