Ruth Vander Zee
Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Ages 8 and up
The Creative Company, 2003, 1-56846-176-3
Erika does not know when she was born, what her name was, who her parents were, or where she came from. What she does know was that her parents were Jewish and that they, like so many millions of other people, were forced out of their homes, rounded up and put on a train. Perhaps her parents thought they were going to a better place, a place where there would be “food and work.” At the same time they must have worried about rumors that had been going around; rumors about there being death camps.
After a short while Erika’s mother must have realized that they could not possibly be going to “a better place.” They were being transported standing up in cattle cars after all. Surely what lay ahead had to be terrible. She must have known that her baby’s only chance for survival was to get off that train. Out her deep love for her child, Erika’s mother threw her carefully wrapped up baby from the train, no doubt hoping and praying that someone would find and take of the helpless infant.
Luckily Erika was found. A kind woman risked all by taking in the baby. She named her Erika and she gave her a good life.
In this incredibly powerful picture book the author tells the story of how a Jewish mother, on her way to a death camp, did all she could to save her child from the same fate. This is a true story and though it is heartbreaking, it also has a message of hope, for Erika survived. She got married, had children and grandchildren, and she was one of those yellow stars who was able to continue shining.
Sparingly written and perfectly paced, this is a book which truly captures the horror and courage the existed side by side during the years of the Holocaust.
Roberto Innocenti has created stunning artwork for this powerful story. In shades of grey he tells Erika’s story in pictures. This grim color scheme is only relieved when Erika’s mother throws the baby from the train, her pink infant’s blanket bright against the grey background. On the last illustrated page Erika is shown as a young girl living in a world full of color once more. The grey is lifted and life has begun anew.
An author’s note at the beginning of the book explains how the author met Erika and how it was that she came to hear Erika’s story.
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