Jars of Hope

Jen­nifer Roy, Meg Owen­son, illus.
  • Review
By – December 9, 2015

Jars of Hope is a pic­ture book about Right­eous Gen­tile Ire­na Sendler, a Pol­ish social work­er who went to extra­or­di­nary lengths to bring Jew­ish chil­dren to safe­ty dur­ing the Holo­caust. In dat­ed entries, author Jen­nifer Roy begins with sim­ple yet provoca­tive state­ments, such as Ire­na noticed things,” or Ire­na knocked on a door.” She begins her nar­ra­tive in Otwock, Poland in 1916 when Ire­na noticed Jews were treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly. This entry sets the tone for the book, espe­cial­ly with the con­ver­sa­tion with her father, who tells her that the only dif­fer­ence between peo­ple is whether they are good or bad. Reli­gion doesn’t matter. 

With this in mind, Ire­na enters the War­saw Ghet­to to admin­is­ter vac­cines. Thus begins her jour­ney. At great risk, Ire­na smug­gles chil­dren out of harm’s way. She is even­tu­al­ly impris­oned but, although she is threat­ened, she nev­er divulges the iden­ti­ty of those she helped. She has placed her lists of the children’s real names and their Pol­ish names in buried jars, thus giv­ing the book its title.

The illus­tra­tions by Meg Owen­son are deeply researched, evi­denced by the details of the arm­bands Jews wore in the War­saw Ghet­to, which were not yel­low stars. The bleeds are effec­tive and full of emotion. 

How­ev­er, the text suf­fers from dis­tance and a lack of emo­tion. It does not reach the lev­el of two oth­er books on Sendler: Irena’s Jar of Secrets by Mar­cia Vaugh­an, illus­trat­ed by Ron Mazel­lan (Lee & Low, 2011) and Ire­na Sendler and the Chil­dren of the War­saw Ghet­to by Susan Gold­man Rubin, illus­trat­ed by Bill Farnsworth (Hol­i­day House, 2011). All dia­logue is ital­i­cized, which detracts from its read­abil­i­ty. A serif font would have worked bet­ter than sans-serif for all text and would have been more appro­pri­ate to the time peri­od. Source notes in the back mat­ter only cov­er three con­ver­sa­tions and lacks a for more infor­ma­tion” sec­tion. Still, the book can be used with young chil­dren to demon­strate that some peo­ple take action when they wit­ness peo­ple being treat­ed badly.

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 7 – 9.

Bar­bara Kras­ner is an award-win­ning poet and his­to­ri­an who focus­es her writ­ing on the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in Amer­i­ca and dur­ing the Holo­caust. She teach­es in the his­to­ry depart­ment of The Col­lege of New Jer­sey and serves as Direc­tor, Mer­cer Holo­caust, Geno­cide & Human Rights Edu­ca­tion Center.

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