The Bless­ing Cup

Patri­cia Polacco
  • Review
By – November 8, 2013

Fif­teen years ago, The Keep­ing Quilt won the Syd­ney Tay­lor Award for Young Read­ers. There Polac­co shared a sto­ry of lov­ing fam­i­ly tra­di­tions. It inter­wove her great-grand­moth­er Anna’s long life after she arrived in Amer­i­ca with a quilt cre­at­ed, trans­formed, and cher­ished through the gen­er­a­tions. That pic­ture book is a sta­ple in sec­ond and third grade immi­grant stud­ies. Here, in a pre­quel which moves through to the present, Polac­co cen­ters the sto­ry of hard­ships Anna’s fam­i­ly faced in Rus­sia on a chi­na tea set which plays a role in their jour­ney to the new land. The han­dle-less cups and tall, grace­ful teapot come with a note cel­e­brat­ing Anna’s mother’s wed­ding: This tea set is mag­ic. Any­one who drinks from it has a bless­ing from God. They will nev­er know a day of hunger. Their lives will always have fla­vor. They will know love and joy…and they will nev­er be poor.”

This com­pan­ion vol­ume con­tains more action than The Keep­ing Quilt. The bless­ing of the tea set is test­ed by Cos­sack attacks, by the Czar’s edict which forces the Jews of Roynov­ka from their homes, and by Papa’s col­lapse from pneu­mo­nia as he pulls their cart on the road. The com­pas­sion­ate doc­tor who takes them in becomes a heart-warm­ing hero in the tea set sto­ry. He also notices Anna’s near­sight­ed­ness and fits her with a pair of new eye­glass­es. Through­out all the harsh­ness the fam­i­ly faces, the red and blue pat­terned tea set and young Anna’s head scarf stand out in sepia drawn dou­ble-page spreads and pro­vide com­fort to the fam­i­ly and read­er alike. Polacco’s text is suf­fused with warmth and quotable lyri­cism. It also pro­vides age-appro­pri­ate depic­tions of life for Jews under the czar in the ear­ly 1900s. This pic­ture book, which reminds us of the ties that bind us, is rec­om­mend­ed for chil­dren 7 – 10.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she has been help­ing stu­dents vis­it­ing 826 Valen­cia loca­tions around the city to write sto­ries and poems and get­ting adults up and retelling Jew­ish folk­tales to share with their own spin. 

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