Marius Marcinkevičius, illus. Inga Dagilè, transl. Jūra Avižienis. London: Thames & Hudson, hb. 978 0 5006 5326 5, 2023, £12.99, 50pp.
Picture book, 11+ years
The story is set in Vilnius in Lithuania, though the aesthetic of the townscape could be any Eastern European town, and begins in Summer 1943.
The story develops around the friendship between two children, Rivka and Eitan, the narrator, living amongst a community whose members are introduced in beautiful pen portraits on the endpapers, all wearing their yellow stars. The text explores their play activities while the illustrations show overviews of the town and life within it. It is a book rich in allegory and metaphor.
Gradually the pages get darker, black is used more and the perspectives get distorted as Eitan talks of the soldiers who build walls and patrol the city, comparing the soldiers to black birds, a powerful visual impact. Slowly people disappear and death comes, described as silence, with Eitan describing allegorically the idea of his body turning to a pebble.
Rivka survives and lives on to tell the story of the community to the next generation and to reunite the pebbles and stones with the graves of the dead.
This is a powerful and moving story told with care and delicacy. The illustrations with a colour palette limited to browns, blacks, greys and occasional bursts of yellows, are evocative and enrich the text. The typography is varied in both size and typeface, emphasising the disjointed nature of the times.
Definitely for older readers, but certainly a useful addition to the Holocaust literature for children.
Review by Pam Dix