Germany, World War 2. Sisters make a promise to each other to safeguard three gold coins – the last precious gift from their parents. But will their love be enough to survive the war?
Title: The Promise
Author: Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe
Illustrator: Isabelle Cardinal
ISBN: 9781772600582 Language: English with German/Deutsch keywords
Classification: Fiction based on historical events
Themes: sisters, love, determination
What’s it about?
Rachel and Toby are left three gold coins in a tin by their parents who they never see again. Forced into a the Auschwitz concentration camp the girls make a promise to stay together always. Then Rachel becomes sick and is taken away. Toby must decide on her own what she must do next.
Rachel and Toby’s story is based on the ancestors of the two authors of the book. It recounts the events that took place in Auschwitz in a sensitive way – showing the ways in which the prisioners were treated and the forced labour they did that made no sense.
Contains allusions to children dying and a scene where a child is beaten with a leash. The illustrations are not going to appeal to everyone.
I’m going to start off by commenting on the illustrations because that’s what’s at the front of my mind. The illustrations are not going to appeal to everyone. They are described as being a mixed medium collage with texture and colours added. I don’t hate the illustrations but I don’t feel that this is the book where they are best suited. I liked the tonal quality, the darkness of the page, but…and it’s a big but…I found the illustration style distracting and a bit jarring. The heads just didn’t look right to me and it threw off the entire composition.
What about the story though? I’ve had an interest in the events of WW2 for a long time – going all the way back to my teens – for me history is an important part of my life as it expands my knowledge and mind and helps me better understand now because of then. The story itself is not an overly happy one (which considering the topic I would be surprised if it was) but is told in a manner that does engage. You feel sympathy for the girls and sort of have an underlying hope for them that they’ll be okay at the end.
A couple of points about the book that I did take notice of:
- The term Nazi is used consistently. Why is this important? Because it astounds me how many times I pick up a book to read about World War 2 and it uses terms such as “the Germans” and “Germany wanted…” – this really gives a horrid stereotype about the country and the people – many of whom lost their lives during the conflict. The choice of term “Nazi” makes it specific about who was responsible for the government and the acts that were carried out and doesn’t group the German citizens who wanted no part of the cleansing and violence in with it.
- If considering this book I highly recommend taking the age, maturity, and history of your students into consideration. While I’m not a fan of the whole “trigger word” movement, this is not a book that I would consider appropriate for certain age groups. Allusions to Lola who wasn’t there anymore in the bunker (she’d been taken away to die) and Toby’s beating – while accurate of the experiences many suffered during the war – are confronting.
This book in some ways reminded me of a biography I read many years ago entitled Rena’s Promise which was similarily about two sisters who made a promise during their internment in concentration camps during World War 2 but that book I would recommend for mature audiences – again due to content.
Overall, this is a book that might be suitable in the classroom depending on factors that only a teacher, or homeschooling parent, could decide. If the illustrations were a different style I might be a bit more enthusiastic about its use but it just doesn’t quite make it for me.