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 a doctoral candidate in Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Gratz College and is Director, Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Center at Mercer County Community College. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.