A quarter-century after the publication of The Keeping Quilt, readers can rejoice that prolific author/illustrator Patricia Polacco has delved again into her family history and graced us with a companion piece to her beloved picture book.
Using the same first-person narrative technique she used in her earlier book, Polacco takes us back to the humble shtetl in Russia where her ancestors lived before they immigrated to the U.S. To evoke that earlier time, she gives us a multitude of realistic drawings done in pencil and markers and tellingly reserves bright reds and blues for such significant details as the tea set, great-grandmother Anna’s scarf (which, in The Keeping Quilt, shows up in the quilt’s border), and the flames that destroy their temple.
Forced to flee their village, the family can bring only a few items: Papa’s sewing machine, his tallis and holy books, the menorah, and the shofar. Mama lovingly packs the brightly painted tea set that was a special wedding present. She recalls her generous aunt’s message inside: “This tea set is magic. Anyone who drinks from it has a blessing from God.”
As they continue their arduous journey from Russia, Mama reassures her children by reminding them: “We shall always know love, and as long as we are together we shall never be poor.” They sleep in cold barns, share bread, and pass the cup from one to another.
The bitter cold, however, ravages Papa’s lungs, and as they enter a new town, he can pull the family’s cart no longer. Mama runs to find a doctor, who, wondrously, offers to make him well and to welcome the family into his own home. In time, Papa heals, and Dr. Pushkin pays their passage to America. Mama wonders how they can somehow repay him for his kindness.
She settles on the perfect gift: the precious tea set — minus one cup so the family can still have its blessing.
The family reaches the U.S. at last, but the story does not end there. The symbolic journey Polacco explores is authentic and memorable: How does a family shares its true wealth–its treasures of love, culture, faith, and heritage? Children ages 8 to 12 can find much to ponder in this richly told story. As can we adults.
Also consider the titles below and my post on The Junkyard Wonders …