Review: The Brass Charm

The Brass Charm

by Monique Polak, illustrated by Marie LaFrance

Scholastic Canada, 2022

Category: Picture Books 
Reviewer: Cynthia Levinson

The Brass Charm is a Holocaust story with an endearing twist. It does not take place during the Second World War, but in the current day. After a storm blows the roof off Tali's house, she goes to stay with Oma, her Holocaust survivor grandmother. Tali is sad about the loss of her home, her bed, and her books, but Oma gently lets her know that people have survived much worse. She explains that kindness and generosity make hard times easier, and shares her own story and the brass monkey man charm given to her by a fellow prisoner in Terezin on her birthday many years ago. This story gives Tali the courage to reach out to a lonely neighboring child and make friends.

Using storm metaphors and realistic details, the story is based on true events. In the backmatter, the author briefly explains the Holocaust and that her mother received just such a charm from a woman in Terezin when she turned thirteen.

The soft, largely pastel illustrations match the quietness of the story and, at the same time, make the difficult setting palatable to young readers. With their curly hair and similar sympathetic expressions, Tali, her mother, and Oma look like three generations of the same loving family. Terezin prisoners are shown with uncut hair and civilian clothing; because it was a propaganda camp, prisoners did not have their heads shaved or wear uniforms.

The Brass Charm certainly qualifies for serious consideration for a Sydney Taylor Book Award. The historical aspect of the story deals with the Holocaust in realistic but kid-appropriate ways and conveys a message of empathy. The contemporary aspect takes a child’s sadness seriously while also helping the child understand that things can be even worse. This lesson shows the reader how to overcome challenges and to help others do so as well.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!

Reviewer Cynthia Levinson writes nonfiction for young readers focusing on social justice. Her most recent book, The People's Painter, was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and Sydney Taylor Notable.