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A Picture of Grandmother

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A Picture of Grandmother

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A Picture of Grandmother
By Esther Hautzig
Pictures by Beth Peck
Frances Foster Books, 2002
ISBN: 0-374-35920-2

Reviewed by Simon Bonim - November 24, 2006

A Picture of Grandmother is a heartwarming children's story by Esther Hautzig. Perhaps best known for her semi-autobiographical book, The Endless Steppe: Growing up in Siberia, Hautzig has also written several children's books based in part upon her early childhood which was spent in Vilna, Poland. Like these other books, A Picture of Grandmother is set in pre-war Poland, when the Jewish community was secure and unaware of the looming danger.

Set in the happy Vilna of Hautzig's childhood, before her exile, during the war, to Siberia. In A Picture of Grandmother we are introduced to Sara Domin, an apparently upper-middle class young Jewish girl who lives in Vilna, Poland surrounded by a close-knit extended family. Coming home one day, after her piano lesson, Sara discovers that a large envelope has been delivered to her house. It is from her Uncle Benjamin, who lives in America, and as events unfold, he is writing to invite Sara's mother and Grandmother Hanna to New York to see the 1939 World's Fair. Uncle Benjamin has sent along everything they need, including visas. The only thing that he wants in return is a picture of Sara's grandmother. Sara is puzzled when her mother is unable to find the picture, especially as her mother would never let such a precious picture be misplaced! Sara makes it her job to find a copy of the picture. In addition to finding the picture, Sara also uncovers a long held family secret!

A Picture of Grandmother was written for young readers, and is illustrated with charming black and white drawings by Beth Peck. The story is full of old world charm, and does not give any hint of the dark times to come. This is a story about family, love, and understanding. Readers will delight in following Sara's journey of discovery as she hunts for the photo, and as she makes the decision to face her overbearing Aunt Lisa to ask her if she knows what the mystery is surrounding her grandmother's picture.

A Picture of Grandmother a charming story that will delight readers of all ages, although it is written primarily for those in grades 2-4. However, it is much more than 'just' a simple story. In this book Hautzig has painted a detailed picture of Polish Jewry that is uplifting, positive, and different from the many tales that focus only on life in the Shtetls. Hautzig was awarded a Sydney Taylor Book Award Silver Medal for this book, and it was justly deserved!


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