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Monday, March 22, 2010

Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat? Written and illustrated by Nancy Patz. Dutton, Penguin Group (Canada), 2003. $22.50 ages 10 and up

"Who was the woman
who wore the hat
I saw in the Jewish Museum?
What was she like?"

I have long looked for this book and finally found a copy. When I took it to a workshop last week, it created quite a stir. It is a moving story of the Holocaust and one woman...unknown to the author, but for the hat.

In an author's note she tells her readers that she saw the hat when she visited the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. There it was in a glass case, no story, no explanation. She sat down and sketched it, amazed that it might be all that remained of the woman's life. It stirred such feelings in Nancy Patz that she began to write short poems about the woman who might have owned it and to draw pictures of Europeans of that era. She goes on to describe the process that led to this book's publication. It is a wondrous story.

As are the poems that fill its pages. There are so many wonderings about the woman who wore the hat and her life. Did she and the author have things in common? Did she wear it when she was dragged from her home and put on the train for one of the concentration camps? With a mix of pencil drawings, watercolors and old photographs, the author weaves a poetic homage to an unknown woman, her life and the horrible sadness of that time in history. The most heartbreaking sketch for me is a double page spread of the belongings that were taken from Jewish prisoners and then thrown in a pile on a bare wooden floor...the hat sits hidden amidst them. She ends with a poignant observation:

"It might have been my mother's hat.
It could have been my hat.
Or yours.
Who was the woman?
Whom did she love?
And did she put cream
in her coffee?"

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