Reviews for No Pretty Pictures : A Child of War


Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 August 1998
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 6^-12. The truth of the child's viewpoint is the strength of this Holocaust survivor story, told with physical immediacy and no "pride of victimhood." Lobel's ebullient, gorgeously colored illustrated books--from the Caldecott Honor Book On Market Street (1982) to Toads and Diamonds (1996)--give no hint of her dark, terrifying childhood. Barely five years old when the Nazis came to her comfortable home in Poland, she spent the next five years in hiding and on the run; then she was captured and transported to concentration camps. Through the marches, hunger, mud, stench, and corpses, her younger brother was nearly always with her, disguised as a girl to hide his circumcision. Matter-of-factly, she tells how she protected him ("Once I found a raw potato in the mud. My brother and I took turns taking bites out of it"); in the Ravensbruck selections, she dragged him to the left, away from the chimneys. With the same quiet truth, she describes her childhood shame at being an "ugly, obvious Jew girl," a stigma she still felt in the two years she spent recovering from tuberculosis, nursed by kind caregivers in a Swedish sanatorium after the war. Looking back, she avoids sermonizing and analysis. There's a visceral physicalness to her memories of the terror ("the whispers of the trapped grown-ups sounded like the noise of insects rubbing their legs together") and in the elementals she celebrated when she was safe: the luxury of privacy, of hair, no lice, a flushing toilet, sheets white and clean, and the flat, slithering, sweet taste of butter. She always felt distant from her cold parents; it's the loss of Niania, the nanny who raised and sheltered her, that still breaks her heart. Older readers who remember her picture books will be stirred by her story of starting school at age 12 for the first time, the only dark kid with all the blonde Swedes, clumsy at gym and sports, an outsider, until she discovered she could draw. ((Reviewed August 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 1999
Illustrator Anita Lobel's memoir of her traumatic years in Poland spent under the threat of annihilation by the Nazis is notable both as an account of survival and as a revelation of a remarkable human being. But what makes the book truly haunting is the perspective from which it is told--that of a child who does not fully comprehend what she is witnessing. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1998 #6
Illustrator Anita Lobel's memoir of her traumatic years in Poland spent under the threat of annihilation by the Nazis is notable both as an account of survival and as a revelation of a remarkable human being. But what makes the book truly haunting is the perspective from which it is told-that of a child who does not fully comprehend what she is witnessing. The prologue, clearly distinguishing between child and adult emotions, augments this effect. As the author notes: "I was barely five years old when the war began. Only when I was much older did the horrors and terrible losses of fully conscious people during all those years of terror dawn on me." In the beginning, war is a bloodstain on the pavement, the removal of valuables from one's apartment, and unfamiliar words such as concentration camp and liquidation. Then, as the years pass, war means separation from parents and hiding-in the country with her brother and their devoted nanny Niania, in the Krakow ghetto, and finally in a Benedictine convent-before Anita and her brother are discovered by the Nazis and sent to the first of a series of camps. Conditions on the transports and in the camps, designed for destroying health and self-respect, become a way of life to be endured until the German defeat. Sent by the Red Cross to Sweden to recuperate from tuberculosis, and joined eventually by her parents, Anita gradually re nters the ordinary world of school and friends, and the tense, clenched tone of the book becomes noticeably more relaxed. True, there are no pretty pictures, but there are moments of description that are intensely visual and vivid, and will not be easily forgotten. m.m.b. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 1998 September #1
A haunting look back by Lobel, a Polish Jew who ``was born far, far away, on a bloody continent at a terrible time.'' Lobel writes of her life as a young girl, who ``was barely five years old when the war began.'' She and her three-year-old brother did not understand when her father disappeared in 1939 (to Russia, she later learned), but very soon they understood the words ``transported, deported, concentration camp and liquidation.'' Taken from a Benedictine convent that sheltered Jewish children, Lobel and her brother (by then, ten and eight) were first in Montelupi Prison, then in Ravensbr├╝ck, where they were sick with lice, diarrhea, and tuberculosis. They were rescued and sent to Sweden to regain their health and eventually to be united with their parents. This is an inexpressibly sad book about a young girl who missed her childhood, yet survived to say that her life ``has been good. I want more.'' (b&w photos, not seen) (Memoir. 10-14) Copyright 1998 Kirkus Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1998 August #1
Few admirers of Lobel's sunny picture book art (On Market Street) would guess at the terrors of Lobel's own childhood. Here, in beautifully measured prose, she offers a memoir that begins in 1939, when the author was five, as German soldiers march into her native Krakow; Lobel's adored father, the owner of a chocolate factory and a religious Jew, flees soon after, in the middle of the night ("He had kissed me in the night, and I did not know it"). Deportations begin, and before long the author and her younger brother (who is dressed as a girl) are sent to the country, in the care of their Niania (nanny). Thus the two children embark on years of flight, on a turbulent course involving assumed identities, blackmailers, a dangerous stay in the Krakow ghetto, concealment in a convent, capture and concentration camps. In 1945 the children are liberated, in Ravensbruck, and brought to Sweden to recuperate from what turns out to be tuberculosis, and they are eventually reunited with both parents. Lobel brings to these dramatic experiences an artist's sensibility for the telling detail, a seemingly unvarnished memory and heartstopping candor. Focused on survival, the child narrator does not pity herself or express her terror: she observes everyone keenly and cannily sizes them up. This piercing and graceful account is rewarding for readers of all ages. It may prove especially valuable for children who have graduated from Lobel's picture books and who may therefore feel they "know" her; this memoir would help such readers build a personal connection to WWII and its tragic lessons. A 12-page inset of family photos is included. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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School Library Journal Reviews 1998 September
Gr 6 Up-Lobel has written a haunting, honest, and ultimately life-affirming account of her childhood years in Nazi-occupied Poland. Born in Krakow to an affluent Jewish family, she and her younger brother were cared for by their nanny ("Niania"), a devout Catholic. Lobel was five when the Nazis arrived in Poland and her father left in the middle of the night. As the situation worsened, Niania took the children into hiding in the countryside while their mother remained in the city with fake identification papers. As the war continued, the siblings were hidden in various places, relying mostly on Niania to care for them, at great risk to herself. When Lobel and her brother were captured, Niania arranged to have the children delivered into the care of relatives inside the concentration camp at Plasz├│w. At the end of the war, Lobel, then 11, and her brother were sent to Sweden as refugees, where she thrived at a convalescent home while recovering from tuberculosis and was reunited with her parents. She ends the story with her family's emigration to the United States. The author's words are simple and straightforward, even when she describes the horror of life in the camp or the fear and loneliness of being separated from her family and nanny. This is a worthy addition to memoirs of war such as Esther Hautzig's The Endless Steppe (Hall, 1968) and Yoko Kawashima Watkins's So Far from the Bamboo Grove (Lothrop, 1986).-Carol Fazioli, The Brearley School, New York City, NY Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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VOYA Reviews 1999 February
Lobel is familiar to readers through her award-winning stories and illustrations for children. This is a memoir of the pictures of her past-never discussed before. Lobel and her younger brother survived day-to-day life in Nazi-occupied Poland thenMontelupi prison, Plaszow, and Ravensbruck, and recovery in Sweden. She tells her story in a simple, matter-of-fact voice, beginning in 1939 when she was five and Poland was invaded. Given into the care of devout Catholic "Niania," the childrenpretend to be Catholic. They roam and survive as best they can with little help, but eventually are imprisoned. Moved to Plaszow they meet relatives and some of the guards give them quality shelter, food, toilets, and baths. Transported toRavensbruck their better health deteriorates quickly. When the Allies arrive, Anita and her brother are sent to a sanatorium in Sweden, both having contracted tuberculosis. Swedish becomes Anita's daily language and she thrives on the special care. In 1947, Anita and her brother learn that theirparents and Niania are alive. Anita has recovered and is sent to a shelter for Polish refugees where she has her first formal schooling, but is not yet ready to admit to being Jewish. Eventually, their parents arrive and the family moves to Stockholmuntil emigrating to the United States when Anita is sixteen. While many Holocaust survivors are telling their stories, this one suits the young adult audience. Anyone old enough to read about Anne Frank should read Lobel's memoir. There is no sense of fiction in her story and the emotions and realities of ayoung child ring true. The simplicity of her narration and the precise nature of her recollections fill readers with the awe of her survival-and amazement at her having kept the story inside for so long and now sharing it with us. This title wasnominated for the 1998 National Book Award for Young Adults.-Patricia J. Morrow. Copyright 1999 Voya Reviews

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