Oskar and the Eight Blessings
Richard and Tanya Simon, Authors
Mark Siegel, Illustrator
Roaring Book Press, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2015
Suitable for Ages: 4-9
Themes: Kindness, Refugees, Jews, Holocaust, Hanukkah, Blessings, New York City
Prologue: “Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar…until the Night of Broken Glass. His parents put him on a ship to America. He had nothing but an address and a photo of a woman he didn’t know — “It’s your Aunt Esther.” — and his father’s last words to him: “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”
Book Opening lines: Oskar arrived in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah. It was also Christmas Eve.
Book Jacket Synopsis: It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. Oskar, a refugee from the horrors of Nazi Europe, arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he’s never met. As he walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his aunt’s home uptown, he encounters the sights of the city at holiday time — and receives small acts of kindness from its people, each in its way welcoming him to the city and a life in the new world.
Why I like Oskar and the Eight Blessings:
Richard and Tanya Simon’s heartwarming story captures the best of New York and its residents who welcome Oskar to their city through their generous spirits and acts of kindness– a helping hand, a loaf of bread, a superman magazine, a snowball fight, a pair of mittens, and a friendly wink. It is the essence of what America is about, welcoming immigrants fleeing oppression or seeking a better life.
The story is realistic and believable for children. The characters are diverse. The plot is engaging. Oskar is overwhelmed by how small he feels in such a big city. He is tired and hungry. The sights and sounds are strange and confusing. Oskar is brave and remembers the wise fatherly advice he receives that wraps him in warmth during his 100-block journey to his aunt’s house.
This Hanukkah story, set in 1938, is timeless and should be shared with children no matter what tradition they celebrate. Compassion and kindness towards others is not limited to color, race or culture. This is a story of hope for humanity.
Mark Siegel’s illustrations are hauntingly beautiful. With spare text, the illustrations are expressive and really show the story. There is so much feeling captured in the characters eyes and smiles. The illustrations are uplifting.
Resources: An Author’s Note offers historical insight into the story, a glossary provides definitions of key words, and a map shows Oskar’s walk up Broadway in 1938.
Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s review of Oskar and the Eight Blessings, on Perfect Picture Book Friday, which will return January 8.