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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Blessing Cup, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. Simon & Schuster, 2013. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"For the next few days everyone had to sell or give away their meager belongings. They were ordered to pack what they could drag in carts or carry...and leave!  "Where will we go, Momma?" Anna asked."

I first fell in love with Patricia Polacco's stories of her family when I read The Keeping Quilt in 1988. Since then, I have made sure that each and every one of her books has a place on my 'keepers' shelf. She has an uncanny ability to share what is closest to her heart. She honors teachers for the work they do, and writes poignantly about family members and people from her life who have had an impact on the way she lives today. We are privileged to be able to share her stories.

So, we come to The Blessing Cup. It is a perfect companion to her Keeping Quilt. In that book, we met Anna, Patricia's great grandmother as she made the long journey to a new life in a land of promise, America. In this book, we meet Anna again; but, it is her story of life in Russia before leaving for America.

The family is terrorized whenever the czar's army comes to the shtetl where they live happily, despite the many hardships. As mama prepares for Shabbat, she lights the candles and regales her daughters with the story of their lovely tea set, a reminder of happier times:

"Inside of this pot was a note. It was from my aunt Rebecca in Minsk. It read, 'Rachel, this is for you to celebrate your marriage. This tea set is magic. Anyone who drinks from it has a blessing from God. They will never know a day of hunger. Their lives will always have flavor. They will know love and joy...and they will never be poor!'"

The family is not worried about what they do not have because they have each other, and that brings great richness to their lives.  The tea set remains a beacon of abundance and beauty for the young Anna. When the pogroms force them to flee their homeland and work to emigrate to America, they take the tea set with them. It is a reminder that they will always have those riches, no matter what. The time it takes for them to prepare for their new life is hard on the family, especially for Papa.

When he becomes too ill to travel, they must count on the goodness of Dr. Yevgeni Vladimorovich Pushkin, whom the family learns to love and calls Uncle Genya. It is because of this kind, generous and loving man that the family acquires the paperwork and tickets needed to move forward. He sells one of his wife's precious Persian rugs to secure them passage. To repay him, the family leaves the much loved and 'exquisite' tea set, with a note:

"Always remember, dear friend. You are the bread that fed us. You are the salt that flavored our lives. You are the love and joy that held us together. Your golden, kind heart makes you rich indeed....You shall never be poor! I am leaving our precious tea set in your good keeping. We kept one cup so that we can still have its blessing among the four of us. It is all that we will need."

That cup remains in Patricia Polacco's home today, along with the keeping quilt that has so enriched the lives of her family. Her black and white pencil sketches drawn to  accompany this lovely family story are brightened only by the most relevant images...the tea set and blessing cup, the babushka from Russia, the Persian rugs that afforded a new life in America, and the keeping quilt that warms Anna's knees as the story comes to an end. Enjoy every single splendid spread!

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