Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rose Blanche

Written & Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti
Children’s Picture Book (Controversial): 3-6
Stars: 4 (out of 5)

Summary: This is a story that takes place during Nazi Germany. The main character, a young girl, begins sneaking food to starving children in a concentration camp. One day, she is caught, and shot by Nazi soldiers.

This story had absolutely wonderful illustrations that looked so realistic; I almost thought they could be snapshots. The illustrations added almost a second story to the one that was being told, as it was through the illustrations that the reader is able to figure out that the little girl is living in Nazi Germany and stealing food for children in the concentration camps. Since the story is told from the little girl’s point of view, she doesn’t have the knowledge to mention words such as “Nazi,” “Jews,” or “concentration camps.” Thus, it is through the illustrations that we understand the time and location that this story takes place. The characters have Swastikas or wear the Star of David, allowing the reader to better understand the context and the characters. Both of those literary elements, time and place, are only discussed through the illustrations’ conjunction with her words. Without the illustrations, the story would be incomplete and the reader would likely wind up confused and frustrated.

The story is particularly interesting because of the little girl’s lack of understanding of what is going on where she lives. When I say this, I don’t mean that she has no idea of the hardships that are going on around her, for she does. She just does not have the language to put her experience into words. I feel as though this might be a book that young students can relate to for that reason. They know what it is likely to recognize that something bad is going on around them, but may not have the words or the ability to put it into a concrete picture that others can understand. As a character, she is one that is very relatable and easy to develop an emotional connection with. Her behavior throughout the story really highlights young children’s willingness and desire to help humanity. Her innocence shines through as she is not caught up in political and religious differences that mark all of the adults in the story. Instead, she sees children who are in need, who are hungry, and she does what she can to help them. She doesn’t even consider the ways in which she might be different from them, particularly that they are Jews and she is not. She is not clouded with discrimination and hate, but instead, represents one human’s drive to help another. It is this non-judgmental character that can remind us all that we are all more similar than we are different and that we have a responsibility to help one another out and treat one another kindly.

I think where the controversy really enters this book is when the little girl is shot. The author doesn’t explicitly tell us that the little girl is shot and dies, but the other information surrounding points us in this direction. We assume, as readers, that the little girl has died, which is supported by the illustration of a gravestone. I think that there is fear in reading literature in which a young child dies, especially when she is doing something that stems from her human instinct. I must admit that even for me, as an adult reader, I was very saddened and distraught that the little girl dies at the end of the story. It seemed so unfair and frustrating. That being said, in a classroom, this might be a great jumping point into how many acts of discrimination can be potentially fatal or even just hurtful. It could help students explore how dangerous discrimination can be. What I particularly like is that they story allows a teacher to address discrimination without having to focus on race and ethnicity. I think that sometimes the topic of skin color can be difficult for young children to do in a meaningful and open manner, but I feel like discussing the issues of discrimination associated with political and religious affiliations might be easier for students. This story could also be used in a unit on Nazi Germany, to help the kids understand what it might have been like from the child’s perspective. 

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