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.