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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Oskar and the Eight Blessings, written by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon and illustrated by Mark Siegel. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 5 and up

"The woman reached
inside her coat and gave
him a small loaf of bread.

It was fresh. It filled him.

He saw a newsstand full of
comics. One showed a
strongman in a cape ... "

With the Nazis gaining power in Europe in 1938, Oskar's parents make the almost impossible decision to put him on a boat headed for New York. Oskar carries nothing but a photo and the address of his aunt, a woman he has never met. His father's last words are meant to encourage and sustain him in this new life:

“Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”

As he walks from Battery Park the 100 blocks down Broadway that will take to his aunt's house, Oskar is the recipient of eight blessings - one for each day of Hanukkah. It is the seventh day of Hanukkah, and Christmas Eve. He wants to be there before his aunt lights the menorah at sunset. It is a long trek. He is tired, cold, and hungry.

First a woman feeding pigeons offers a piece of stale bread to help with feeding the birds. He eats it himself. She provides a small loaf of fresh bread which fills him. Then, a man at a newsstand
gives a Superman comic as his gift. Oskar can hear his father's voice again, and opens his eyes to the blessings that surround him. His encounters are meaningful, full of hope and encouragement for a young boy whose life has changed so dramatically.

I have never been to New York. Like so many others, I have strong images of many of the places that Oskar passes as he walks. It is interesting that the authors reference, with each encounter that he has, an event which did happen that year in NYC. I love that about this story!

The artwork is done in a series of beautifully rendered panels, allowing readers to feel the cold of the winter night, the warmth of the people who help to make Oskar's trek bearable, and the love he feels when he hugs his Aunt Esther for the first time.

An author's note and a map of Oskar's footsteps from Battery Park through Manhattan to West 103rd Street add context and a feeling of wonder. Emotional and heartwarming, this is a 'keeper'.

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