“Mom lit the seven candles and said, ‘We light these candles to remember those in our family who are not with us.
May their memory be for a blessing.’ ”
Year after year, Eli watches the solemn lighting of seven candles at his family's celebration of Rosh Hashanah. But these happy occasions are always tinged with sadness, and Eli doesn't understand why.
Then one year he travels to Eastern Europe and finally hears the stories that for generations have been too painful to share. As Eli learns how the candles represent his family's connection to the Holocaust, he also learns a lesson about the importance of remembering.
Ruth Vander Zee
Marian Sneider • authors
Bill Farnsworth • illustrator
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2008
Florida Book Awards, 2007 Childrens's Literature - Bronze medal
IRA/CBC Children's Choices for 2008.
Booklist: Why does Eli's great-grandmother Gussie cry when she lights the candles for the Jewish New Year? Eli learns the the horrifying secret when he flies with his family to the Lithuanian village where Gussie lived as a child...Based on the experience of Sneider's grandson, this picture book tells the history in stark prose, and Farnsworth's unframed, glowing oil paintings show the boy in his warm home and then in the bleak forest...This is a jouney back that many Jewish survivor families are now taking, uncovering the horror of genocide that no one ever talked about at home. Sure to spark discussion and more research.
Kirkus Reviews: ...As survivors and the only real witnesses to the Holocaust begin to pass on, educating the young to remember the harsh events of history in order to prevent future genocide is one way to avoid future ambivalence and denial. Although brief, this is a sad, dark, candid look at a boy's family history coupled with Farnsworth's equally gloomy blue/gray paintings that evoke a feeling of extreme loss and mourning. While its message is universally significant, its use will be most effective in introductory Holocaust discusions and curriculum.
Publisher's Weekly: Vander Zee (Mississippi Morning) and Sneider, whose experiences inspired the book, use simple, direct language to follow Eli's trajectory from puzzlement and ignorance to horrific realization and resolve. As the family gathers at the site of the massacre, the prose is unsparing and unrushed, occupying several pages...Farnsworth (The Christmas Menorahs) freezes the action in his realistic oil paintings, an approach that makes the most of the emotionally wrenching subject matter. He portrays Eli's reaction in a stunning close-up—his face is expressionless except for his sad, wide eyes. But in this moment when innocence is lost (Eli's first response is the utterly authentic, “Were children killed too?”), a sense of maturity dawns. Eli realizes that the world is bigger than his own experience, and that each generation is entrusted with the responsibility and sacredness of memory.
Children's Book Council: ...This powerful story, illuminated by Bill Farnsworth's sensitive brush strokes and muted palette, can be used as an introduction to World War II and the Holocaust, and will remind young readers how they can make a difference in the lives of their families.
Hilary Daninhirsch—BookLoons 2007: As families pass on religious and other traditions to younger generations, sometimes they have to share the burden of devastating family secrets. Ruth Vander Zee, who is known for taking on mature topics in her picture books, wrote this story about the Holocaust, inspire by a true story from Marian Sneider's family...I know we will hold on to his book for when my children are older - it will be a gentle way to introduce the subject of the Holocaust.
Hazel Rochman Booklist: "...This is a journey back that many Jewish survivor families are now taking, uncovering the horror of genocide that no one ever talked about at home. Sure to spark discussion and more research.
AJL Newsletter This beautiful and affecting book adds something new to the genre of illustrated books about the Holocaust. Rarely do we find a story of a present-day youngster who is placed directly at the location of past tragic events, especially at a mass grave. Most of the Holocaust books deal with either relating the event within its historical framework, or letting the older generation be the mouthpiece and do the explaining to American children…the fact that there are some survivors who “do not speak of these events” is realistic and creates a tension in the story that makes it quite readable…this book is an effective use of the genre and can be shared with children learning about the Holocaust from grades 4 and up. November/December 2007
Jewish Book World The text is spare and sensitive; the illustrations are so powerful, so tuned to the momentum of the story-that I can truthfully say that they are perfect. This is a wonderful book. Summer 2008
Through the Looking Glass ...This very moving book is a touching memorial for all the people who were killed by the Nazis in Lithuania during World War II. The authors show their readers that the pain of such events never completely goes away, and it is important for the next generation to understand what happened and to remember. With a simple and unaffected text, and evocative oil paintings, the creators of this book have produced a title that wills strike a cord with readers of all ages.