Review: Ethel's Song
Ethel's Song: Ethel Rosenberg's Life in Poems
by Barbara Krasner
Calkins Creek (imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers), 2022
Author Barbara Krasner humanizes the Rosenbergs by portraying them as the loving couple they were, “...trying to make their way and live consistently with their values.” The author’s notes give carefully researched details about the Rosenberg case and their children, Michael and Robby, including what happened to them as youths and how they grew into adulthood to carry the mantle of the family heritage, correcting the historical record and educating the public. One liberty that Krasner takes with Ethel's story is her wearing red lipstick. This motif is threaded throughout the story as a symbol of a rebellious youth at first, and then later a symbol of the Communist cause and fight against fascism. Another motif is the mention of the Passover seder’s four questions in a series of poems throughout the text—each one taking up themes reflecting Ethel’s struggle and perspectives on life, including poverty, hate, war, and politics. The book also includes original photographs of the Rosenbergs and their children, as well as a historical timeline and selected bibliography. The poems reveal the author’s precision, crafting with lean language and poetic devices. Additional Jewish connections in this story include the observance of Shabbat, a bris, and the familiar story of Eastern European Jewish immigrants striving on the Lower East Side of New York City. Yiddish expressions are peppered throughout the text, and the author also chooses to refer to “G-d” with a respectful G dash d. Ultimately, Ethel is portrayed as a loving Jewish mother who wants the best for her boys, even when the world turns on her and Julius. Ethel's Song: Ethel Rosenberg's Life in Poems is a contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award, shedding light on the true story of the Rosenbergs.
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