Review: What Rosa Brought

What Rosa Brought

by Jacob Sager Weinstein, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Katherine Tegen Books (imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Jeanette Brod

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What Rosa Brought shares a message of universal relevance: you carry love with you wherever you go. This Holocaust story speaks across generations about choices and responses to persecution, fear and an uncertain future. It is a gentle picture book told from a child’s point of view about the misfortunes of one Jewish family as they face the hatred that accompanies the Nazi rise to power and the frustrations of the search for visas and escape.

The setting is Vienna, Austria, at the time of the Anschluss. Young Rosa asks the naive questions that juxtapose the fate of her cat with the fate of her family. The wisdom of her grandmother exists in loving counterpoint. Rosa’s parents struggle with diminishing options during Nazi boycotts of Jewish stores, food shortages, long lines at the embassy and American isolationism. Many neighbors, ostensibly the Jews, disappear (as does the cat). The good neighbors do not betray the father’s efforts to create an underground business making trunks from the shelves in his now closed store.

Multiple threads of Judaism run through the story. This is an assimilated family. Hence, Rosa’s confusion when a bearded Rabbi comes to ask Rosa’s father to build a secret compartment for a Torah he will not leave behind. When Rosa asks what a Torah is, the Rabbi contrasts the book that teaches his people to think for themselves with the blind ignorance of those who perpetrate Nazi book burnings. The family’s belief in God is reaffirmed when the father reflects that because they helped the Torah escape, God is helping them. They receive visas for three and the grandmother stays behind.

In an exercise that evokes the game I Packed my Grandmother’s Trunk, Rosa ruminates on what she might pack to go to America. In a phantasmagoria of predominantly Jewish images, we see the outlines of Jewish ritual objects that also appear on the cover of the book. Throughout What Rosa Brought, the illustrations say what the text, in its simplicity, does not articulate. The illustrations portrays historical realities as the reader sees what Rosa sees and cannot understand. There is sensitivity, authenticity and restraint in the artist’s depictions of Nazi soldiers at rallies and in the streets. There is empathy and humanity in the portraits of the family’s plight.

This is a true story that Rosa’s son writes in tribute to his mother’s experiences. In 1939, Rosa arrives in America. At the writing of the book, Rosa is a grandmother. The book is a testament to the importance of telling our stories and bearing witness. What Rosa Brought is sadly no longer a book about history. Time has collapsed; Russian pogroms and the Holocaust and events in Israel have all merged. What Rosa Brought is a book about what is important in the times in which we live. Rosa chooses love.

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Reviewer Jeanette Brod is the Children’s and Teen Services Associate at the New Milford, Connecticut, Public Library. She also serves as Educational Consultant for Connecticut’s Voices of Hope HERO Center and speaks locally about her family’s Holocaust experiences. Jeanette is the former Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Sholom in New Milford and a past Vice-President of the Children’s Book Council in New York City. She holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Indiana University, Bloomington. Jeanette and her husband, Sasha, are the proud parents of two grown children