Today is the United-Nations-designated Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. As part of my remembrance, I want to spread the word about the impactful It Rained Warm Bread, a novel in verse for middle grade children by Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet and Hope Anita Smith with illustrations by Lea Lyon, published in 2019.
I take note of Holocaust books for children. For the sake of humanity and in memory of the members of my family who were murdered in the Holocaust—as well as the memories of the daunting number of people who were also murdered in that and other genocides—I think it is crucial that we remember those events. And part of passing on those memories means passing information about them to children through books. Such books strike me as particularly difficult to write.
In researching my own family history I read a factual account of the events that happened in a town where two branches of my family lived, now called Berezhany, Ukraine. At the dawn of World War II, some of my family members were among the approximately 10,000 Jews living there. I believe they would have called the town by its Polish name Brzeżany or its Yiddish name, Brezhan. When I was about 47, I read a detailed account* of the horrific events that took place in the days before a sign was posted at the entrance to the city with the word “Judenfrei”—“free of Jews.” I don’t think I was ready to read that until I was 47. Before that, most likely I would have numbed out in some way. As I think about books about the Holocaust for children, I wonder: how do we convey horrors to children in ways that they can absorb them and get a sense of the emotional and factual scope of what happened without becoming so overwhelmed that they numb out?
Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet, Hope Anita Smith, and Lea Lyon did just that in creating It Rained Warm Bread: Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet conveyed her father’s story, Hope Anita Smith turned that story into poems, and Lea Lyon enriched the verse with her illustrations. The verse and sepia-toned illustrations provide visual and mental space for a story that goes beyond its words. The language of poetry—repetition, metaphor, rhythm, and more—help convey the thoughts and emotions of a boy experiencing what seems unimaginable to him and to us, as he loses family members and faces both the great cruelty and great kindness that humanity can embody. Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet uses an author’s note with family photos at the end to give the story historical context and allow us to see it as part of a life that becomes imaginable again and familiar. You can see excerpts that show their artful work here, at its MacMillan/Henry Holt and Co. web page.
Thank you to Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet, Hope Anita Smith, and Lea Lyon and to Christy Ottaviano Books of Henry Holt and Company for this welcome addition to children’s literature.
* I am fortunate that an excellent book was written about this town in my family history, specifically Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jew, and Ukrainians, 1919-1945 by Shimon Redlich.