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 the author of many books across genres, including fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and children’s literature. Her recent titles include 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the M.S. St. Louis, 1939, Civilian Casualties in War and Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems. Her book Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade was a recipient of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award. She holds a Ph.D. in Holocaust and genocide studies from Gratz College, teaches in the Holocaust and genocide studies program at the College of New Jersey, and serves as director of the Mercer County Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Center. She also holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.