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The Tattered Prayer Book

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The Tattered Prayer Book

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The Tattered Prayer Book
By Ellen Bari
Illustrations by Avi Katz
Gihon River Press, 2013
IBN: 978-0-9819906-8-2

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - July 8, 2013

Teaching young children about the Holocaust can be a daunting and emotional task. However, there is an obligation to teach each new generation about this horrific event, both in terms of its historical importance and to remember not only those who lost their lives but also those who survived and who often bare unseen scars. It is also hoped, but in vain I fear, that by remembering the Holocaust you help prevent another such event from happening.

One method of introducing young children to the history and trauma of the Holocaust is through stories. This is a tender and nonthreatening way of teaching children about a difficult subject. One such story that does an admirable job of introducing children to the Holocaust, without overwhelming them with raw emotion or rage is Ellen Bari's new book, The Tattered Prayer Book.

Geared toward children ages 6-10, The Tattered Prayer Book allows readers to follow Ruthie, a young girl who finds a tattered prayer book (Siddur) in a box of old things belonging to her father. She had always thought that her father was an American, but she soon discovers that he was born in Germany and sets out to find out more about his history. Confronting her father with the prayer book, Ruthie begs him to tell her the story behind the prayer book. Reluctantly he does, as he had hidden away the prayer book, and the events leading up to his finding it. Ruthie's father tells her, very briefly about how, when the Nazi's took over Germany, life became hard for the Jews. Old friends now refused to play with him, and more often than not called him names. Restaurants began to refuse to serve Jews and German's where told not to shop at Jewish stores. Then came Kristallnacht (Night of Shattered Glass), and many Jewish stores and synagogues where destroyed throughout Germany. The next day, in the burnt out ruins of a synagogue, Ruthie's father found the prayer book. Although tattered and a bit burned, this prayer book was to offer her father comfort in the days to come. Ruthie's father and immediate family where fortunate. They managed to immigrate to America, but they left behind many relatives in Germany that were unable to leave.

The book does not mention what happened to those left behind, nor does it go into any great detail about the dangers faced by Jews in Germany in the lead up to World War II, and this is as it should be in a book for such a young audience. The Tattered Prayer Book explains to children that when the Nazi's took over in Germany things began to go steadily downhill for the country's Jews, and that it was imperative for those who could, to leave. It never gets into what happened once the war, and the Holocaust, went into full swing, but it does set the stage for teachers and parents to introduce these more advanced subjects, when the child (or children) is more emotionally equipped to deal with them. This book can also be used as a starting point for conversations about the Holocaust and related topics, for children of all ages.

One of the nicest elements of this story is that by getting her father to tell Ruthie about his past, he gets to recover a bit of himself that he thought he had lost forever and Ruthie gains a deeper understanding and appreciation for her father. In addition, the story is accompanied by illustrations by Avi Katz that enhance the story line and which reflect the sensitive tone of the book.

The Tattered Prayer Book will make a wonderful addition to both public and private libraries, and it is ideally suited for use in both the home and in classroom settings.

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