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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

One Thousand Tracings, written and illustrated by Lita Judge. Hyperion Books, 2007. $17.50 ages 6 and up

"Dr. Kramer included a list of ten families. He sent tracings of their feet. Mama and I found a pair of shoes for each one. I matched the shoes to the tracings.

Papa asked Dr. Kramer for more names. And soon names came like rain, pouring out of letters written in German. "

I had never heard anything of this story previously, and I am so happy that I ordered the book and got the chance to read it and to share it with you...just in case you don't know it either.

It is a wonderful nonfiction picture book whose story is taken from the author's own family history. Such an inspiring tale to tell, and Lita Judge tells it brilliantly. It begins with a box of old letters and foot tracings found in her grandparents' attic. When she asks her mother about them, she learns that her grandparents had taken a very active role following WWII in helping some of the families devastated by the effects of that war.

She tells the story from her mother's perspective. She is a young girl when it begins. Her father had joined the war effort and was gone for three years. Naive and innocent, it is her feeling that, with the war over, all is well. Until the letter arrives... it tells of starvation, worn clothing and no shoes. It doesn't take long for her mother to set about making a difference, with her young daughter's help.

A care package is quickly dispatched to Germany. In their return thank you note, their doctor friend asks for no further help for his family, rather that they help others who were facing terrible times. Ten families, all needing help and shoes! The foot tracings are there.  For two years, the family does its best to bring comfort to those in need. They ask friends and neighbors, family and strangers to get involved and help those European families who are struggling to live in the aftermath of the war. One thousand foot tracings, three thousand care packages about heroes!

Eliza is just one of the children helped by the Hamerstrom family. Perhaps the fact that she is the same age as the young girl telling the story makes her special. Her father has not returned to the family and her mother is doing her best to keep her children safe and warm:

"My little girl and baby boy and I lived in a cellar with two other families for five weeks, with only beans to eat. My husband is still missing. Now we live with my father."

A special gift is sent to Eliza and the reader lives in hope that the kind and giving Hamerstrom family will hear from her in the near future. There is great joy and dancing when that letter arrives.

The illustrations that Lita Judge has created for this lovely story are the perfect accompaniment, with their soft edges and pastel colors. She intersperses them with authentic items found in the box. There are foot tracings, balls of wool used to make warm mittens, sweaters and socks. There are family photographs, letters and addressed envelopes. It is inspiring and uplifting to know that one family could, and did, make such a difference. She finishes her author's note with the following letter found among the foot tracings:

'We are full of thanks to our American colleagues; their friendship lets us believe once more in the future, which otherwise lay before us in frightful darkness."

Now, there's a legacy!

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