The Wren and the Sparrow

J. Patrick Lewis; Yev­ge­nia Nay­berg, illus.
  • Review
By – June 16, 2015

The musi­cal lega­cy of one man reach­es through the dark days of the Holo­caust to a young sur­vivor in this fable about the pow­er of music and mem­o­ry. In a Pol­ish town hung on the edge of despair” lives the Wren, a poor old man with a beau­ti­ful voice and a sole pos­session, his beloved hur­dy-gur­dy. When the Nazis force the peo­ple to give up their musi­cal instru­ments, the Wren defies the order by play­ing one last song before being dragged away to his demise. The poet­ic words of the song and the raised voic­es of the towns­peo­ple bring a brief moment of cathar­sis in the midst of so much anguish. That night the Spar­row, the Wren’s stu­dent sneaks through the vil­lage and recov­ers the instru­ment, hid­ing it behind the boil­er of her apart­ment build­ing. Years lat­er, after the end of the war, a boy dis­cov­ers the hur­dy-gur­dy with a let­ter from the Wren tucked inside. Find­er, if you are not the Spar­row, know that once a young girl risked her life for an old man who lived…in the key of despair, but the octave of truth.” As the young boy grows into a man, he keeps the instru­ment safe through­out his trav­els, vow­ing to leave his own let­ter in it “…so that no one will ever for­get.” The affect­ing text is filled with both pathos and hope, befit­ting the author’s sta­tus as U.S. Children’s Poet Lau­re­ate (2011- 2013). Somber water­col­or and pen­cil illustra­tions con­vey the his­tor­i­cal dark­ness of the time, yet are punc­tu­at­ed with the Sparrow’s red hair and the rich tones of the instru­ments that invoke the hope of bet­ter days to come. A poet­ic trib­ute to the resilience and con­ti­nu­ity of the Jew­ish peo­ple fol­low­ing the night­mare of the Holo­caust. Includes an after­word and archival pho­to describ­ing the role of music in the Lodz ghet­to and con­cen­tra­tion camps. Rec­ommended for ages 8 – 11.

Teri Mark­son has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 18 years. She is cur­rent­ly the act­ing senior librar­i­an at the Val­ley Plaza Branch Library in North Hol­ly­wood, CA.

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