Blessings Keep Flowing

Blessing Cup by Patricia PolaccoA 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

Keeping Quilt by Patricia PolaccoBabushka Baba Yaga by Patricia PolaccoPink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Discovering Home

Some of the best historical fiction for upper-elementary and middle-school children invites readers to ponder such themes as how culture shapes identity … the significance of friends and family … and how all people have the same essential needs for home, food, shelter, love and acceptance. Students can hear news reports about immigration almost daily, but they might relate more easily to vibrant novels featuring spunky young protagonists who must make their way in a strange new land.

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming

Candace Fleming’s Lowji Discovers America shows just how far it is from Bombay to Hamlet, Indiana. Nine-year-old Lowji is used to …

  • a home on the 47th floor of an apartment building
  • the sounds of honking cars, rattling trains and rumbling double-decker buses
  • animals, even cows, running free in the city
  • lots and lots of relatives – and a best friend

Lowji’s adventures in small-town America start right away with a fainting pig, a potty-mouthed parrot, and a man as big as a mountain. Leave room for a belly full of laughs with this lively, good-natured novel.

Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
In her author’s note, Grace Lin notes, “Growing up Asian in a mainly Caucasian community was not a miserable and gloomy existence. But it was different. I wrote [The Year of the Dog] because it was the book I wished I had had when I was growing up, a book that had someone like me in it.” Pacy
and her sisters are the only Taiwanese-American children at school until … Melody arrives. The girls become friends, enter a contest together, share a crush on the same boy, and enjoy the same food. Pacy even finds her true purpose in life. What will you find here? A charming story of friendship, self-discovery and a girl’s connection to her heritage, all told in a direct manner and dotted with amusing ink drawings. The charm continues in Lin’s sequel, Year of the Rat.

King of Mulberry Street by Donna Jo Napoli

For a darker, more dramatic plot, try Donna Jo Napoli’s The King of Mulberry Street. Nine-year-old Beniamino’s mother leaves him on a ship in Naples, believing he will have a better life in America. Sailing into the New York harbor in 1892, the abandoned Jewish-Italian boy has his first and only new pair of shoes and acquires a new nickname, “Dom.” What he lacks, though, would alarm nearly anyone coming to the U.S.: he knows no English, has no one to greet him, and has no place to sleep. He spends his first night in a wooden barrel in an alleyway. Quick-witted Dom soon learns to avoid the cruel padroni, men who force homeless boys into slavery to work off their debts. As he struggles daily, Dom recalls the wise proverbs his Nonna taught him. He makes new friends and creates his own job by selling sandwiches. Based in part on her grandfather’s childhood, Napoli’s novel prickles with conflict, historical context, and unforgettable characters.

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