Rachel’s Ros­es

Feri­da Wolff, Margeaux Lucas (illus.)

  • Review
By – July 13, 2020

This charm­ing sto­ry, set in the ear­ly 1900s, teems with the fla­vor and atmos­phere of New York City’s Low­er East Side. Third-grade Rachel helps with fam­i­ly chores and reluc­tant­ly watch­es her tag-along younger sis­ter Han­nah; mean­while Papa is run­ning his store, Bub­bie is run­ning the house, and Mama is try­ing as hard as she can to make a suc­cess of her new dress­mak­ing business.

Each pen­ny earned, each pen­ny spent, looms large in the econ­o­my of the time. Rachel’s par­ents can­not afford to buy the girls brand new cloth­ing for Rosh Hashanah, but her moth­er has promised she will sew new but­tons onto the fronts of last year’s skirts to give their out­fits an updat­ed look. Rachel is dis­ap­point­ed to have noth­ing new to wear on the hol­i­day but, when she finds three spec­tac­u­lar glass but­tons with ros­es inside, she is cheered by their unusu­al beau­ty and feels they will be just the thing to make her skirt look spe­cial on the hol­i­day. Even more impor­tant­ly, wear­ing these won­der­ful but­tons will dis­tin­guish her from her annoy­ing, copy-cat younger sib­ling whose hol­i­day skirt looks exact­ly the same. There is only one prob­lem; the but­tons are more expen­sive than she had antic­i­pat­ed and there isn’t enough mon­ey to pur­chase them. Rachel’s resource­ful plan to acquire the but­tons is filled with set­backs and chal­lenges, but her deter­mi­na­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty are strong and she painstak­ing­ly pro­gress­es toward the goal of earn­ing the few addi­tion­al pen­nies she needs. Then her lit­tle sis­ter gets lost and Rachel real­izes that new but­tons, no mat­ter how spe­cial, are not the impor­tant things in life, espe­cial­ly when com­pared to family.

With sim­ple, easy-to-read lan­guage, short pithy chap­ters, and with­out any heavy didac­tic spin, the sto­ry empha­sizes fam­i­ly val­ues, respon­si­bil­i­ty, and an appre­ci­a­tion of what one has rather than what one is lack­ing. The Low­er East Side, with its immi­grant pop­u­la­tion filled with dreams of a bet­ter life, comes alive with vital­i­ty and verve. The black and white illus­tra­tions enhance both the sto­ry and the setting.

Rem­i­nis­cent of All-of-a-Kind Fam­i­ly, this appeal­ing book will help young read­ers learn a bit about New York’s Jew­ish his­to­ry and more than a bit about fam­i­ly love, wise advice, and com­mu­ni­ty warmth.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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